Blissful Encounter

by Jill

Disclaimer: nope, still don't own them
Pairing: B/A eventually
Category: Romance/Angst/Drama
Rating: PG-13 (for now)
Spoilers: none
Summary: completely AU, no vampires, no slayers, no Sunnydale; and I really don't know to explain this! I seem to have a thing for AU-fic and older women with younger men at the moment. For this fic Buffy is older than Angel - think about the way he looked in season 1 with his leather jacket (the one he gave Buffy) - yummy!!! She leads a more or less boring life, comfortable and he's the bad boy, who isn't really that bad, but had a rough youth and ... well, I suppose you have to read it to know more.
Feedback: oh yes, please!!!

Dedication: For Patrick. He's the best.


It was one of those evenings. One of those evenings where you would've preferred to stay at home with a good glass of wine, a book or just munching something very unhealthy in front of the TV. Instead you were forced to dress up, paint your face, and appear in public. For job reasons. To show your face. To get promoted if it came up.

And it was boring as hell.

The people around her were laughing, false, overly happy laughs. They were showing their teeth, but their eyes were telling a completely different story. Some of them were crying "I want out", others were dull with too much wine or champagne, the rest was checking out the other sex. Trying to estimate if there was maybe a possibilty for some hot sex in the back room or maybe in a hotel - after the show was over.

It was disgusting.

With a sigh Buffy Summers leaned her back against the wall and closed her eyes for a moment, blocking everything out. The glass of champagne felt cool and smooth in her palm, the voices around her blurred into some unintelligible noise. For a moment she even considered to just leave, but then the rational part of her brain kicked in and she knew there was no chance for her to go. Her boss would never forgive her and then Parker Abrams, the guy in the office next to her would get the promotion she wanted so badly.

As on cue, she heard a laugh near by and opening her eyes they fell on the tall dark-haired man, a full-bosomed brunette draped over his arm, who was talking to Jeffrey Hollis, their boss. Slimy weasel, Buffy thought. He was trying to make points with Jeffrey and from the way their boss was looking into the derriere of the brunette, he was obviously succeeding.

God, what a scumbag. He was actually offering his girlfriend, who - disgustingly - obviously didn't mind. Maybe she should've considered something like that, Buffy thought for a quick moment, then in disgust, dismissed the thought. No way she would sleep her way up the ladder. NO WAY! She was good at her job and she would show them. And she would ignore all the lusty looks Jeffrey Hollis was constantly giving her.

"Look at those sharks."

Buffy turned around and saw Cordelia Chase standing beside her. Cordelia was her secretary of six years, about her own age, and the two women genuinely liked each other, had even become some sort of friends over the years.

"Yeah," Buffy agreed, sipping from her glass. "And Abrams is the worst of them."

Cordelia clinked her own glass with Buffy's and nodded, "He thinks he's wonderful." She snorted, "What a jerk."

"I was just thinking about leaving," the blond sighed, leaned back against the wall.

"Uh-huh," the brunette sipped from her drink, "Boyfriend out of town?"

Sighing for the second time, Buffy nodded, "Yeah. Business trip to Phoenix. He'll be gone for two weeks."

"A real bummer for your love life."

"Not that I really have a lot of it to begin with," the blond remarked sarcastically.

Cordelia raised a brow, sipped again, "Don't tell me there's nothing going on anymore. I thought it was, how did you call it 'the real thing'? And besides, he's a real hunk. In a boring sort of way, of course."

"Cordy," Buffy scolded gently, giving her friend and secretary a stern look. "I can't believe you said that." But inwardly she had to admit that Cordelia was dead right. Riley Finn, her boyfriend, was a good guy. He was a successful financial consultant, and earning more money she could count. And he was good looking. Every mother-in-law's dream. Tall, blond, blue-eyed, good-looking.

Buffy had been drawn to him almost instantly. He came from a wealthy background, was born with the literal golden spoon in his mouth, had breeding, education, and an air or world around him. And she'd thought to have finally found her prince charming. But now, after having been with him for three years, she knew there was a lot of show, and not a lot behind it.

Sure he would be good husband material. And they would probably have a bunch of blond, blue-eyed children, if Riley would find the time in his busy schedule to produce them. And her mother would be so thrilled. She was still nagging her about grand-kids, pointing out that her biological clock was running out soon. But God, Riley was so ... unromantic.

It wasn't really that bad. She knew him by now, knew his limitation. At least she wouldn't have to worry about becoming disappointed with him in tewenty years down the road.

Because he was already so disappointing.

Jesus, her life was a mess. She wasn't getting the job she wanted because Parker Abrams was licking their boss' ass and her love life hadn't been exciting for a long time. Either Riley was too busy, or too tired, or he wasn't even there to actually do anything with her. It was embarrassing for a woman of her age, but she honestly couldn't remember the last time she'd slept with a man. She sighed. And her mother was worrying about grand-children. What a joke.

Buffy brought her glass to her lips and then almost choked on it when Cordelia suddenly nudged her in the ribs. "What the-"

"Oh my," the brunette was fanning herself with her hand, then put it on her chest, "look at that."

"Wha-" The word died in Buffy's mouth that suddenly felt dry as the desert. Oh my indeed, she thought.

"Maybe the night isn't as boring as we thought," Cordy grinned at her friend. "Talk about hunk-material."

"What are they doing here?," the blond asked in a whisper. "Do they actually belong on this party?"

The brunette put her glass down on a near by table, then straightening her dress, she shot Buffy another grin, "I really don't know. But whatever brought them here, the left is mine."

Part 2

Buffy sighed, leaning heavily against her closed apartment door, then stifled a groan when she removed her high-heels. Those three inch-shoes would be the death of her one day. But her evening dress didn't allow anything else. She sighed again, pushed herself off of the door. Maybe she should just buy a new dress. But at the moment, even the thought of doing anything but lay down and getting off her feet seemed too much.

Switching on the light, she glanced at the clock and with another groan realised it was already past midnight. She had a meeting scheduled for eight the next - no, correction - this morning. Great. It was just great. In one of those fashion magazines that always lay on Cordelia's desk she'd read that you had to sleep eight hours at least to stay young and beautiful.

Well, she was thirty-four. It was probably too late anyway.

Almost half past twelve. Buffy shook her head, thinking about Cordelia and her crazy ideas. The brunette had all but jumped one of those men. Men! They were no more than kids. The one Cordelia was interested in was twenty-six.

She chuckled inwardly, walking towards her bedroom. Not for the first time she thought that it wasn't half-bad Riley was on his business-trip to Phoenix. Tired as she was, the idea of a demanding lover ...

She paused, frowned.

Demanding lover. That was a real joke. She could think about a demanding lover and before her inner eye rose the picture of a well built man, with dark hair, brown eyes, and the most unnerving half-smile she'd seen her whole life. Not that they had been able to talk a lot. Cordelia had monopolised him, but over the brunette's head they had exchanged glances, and more than once Buffy had felt her body tingling all over.

Suddenly realising what she was thinking, she groaned and let herself fall on her bed, groaning loudly. She was eight years his senior for Goodness' sake. She had no business thinking about hot, steamy sex with him.

Hot steamy sex?

She closed her eyes, groaned even louder this time. She had to be more desperate than she'd realised. She hardly knew the guy. And she had a steady boyfriend. She had absolutely no business thinking about Angel.

Angel.

That was his name. Well, actually it was Liam. Liam Sullivan. But his friend, Gunn, had called him Angel. And somehow it fit. There was something about him. Not that he was really looking angelic, but under all his cool demeanor tonight she had sensed a seriousness that was rare in a man - or a woman - his age. He might look like a 26 year old, and he definitely had a 26 year old's body, but his eyes were older. Much, much older. She found herself intrigued by it, wondering what had caused this serious expression.

Standing up again, determined to force Angel out of her head, she stepped out of her dress when the phone rang.

Frowning, because nobody ever called her at a time like this, she answered it, "Yeah?"

"Hi, baby."

She suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, then realising that the caller wouldn't see it, she did it anyway. "Riley," she said, hoping her voice was sounding friendly enough. It wasn't his fault that she had fantasies of another man, was it?

"Sorry to call you so late, but I tried it before and-"

"I was at a party. My boss gave it," she replied, cutting him off. She was too tried to listen to one of his lengthy explanations why he did things or how he did them. "Remember. I told you about it."

"Oh, yes," he said quickly, and she heard him laugh slightly. "Sorry, I forgot. Was it successful for you?"

Successful? Was that all he cared about? How about 'did you have fun'? But no, fun wasn't part of Riley's life. Damn, now she'd done it again. Riley was the okay-guy. Her mother simply loved him. She was constantly asking if they would get married soon. And until tonight she'd actually considered it. Or at least thought it possible to find satisfaction in a marriage to Riley Finn.

Realising Riley was waiting for an answer, she tried to ignore the feeling that meeting Angel tonight had anything to do with her decision. It was ridiculous anyway. He was much too young for one. Besides she hadn't talked to him more than a few words. She hardly knew the guy, for God's sake.

"Buffy, are you still there?"

Shifting her attention back to the phone-call, she ran a hand through her hair, "Sorry. Yes, yes, it was nice."

"Good." She could hear the smile in his voice. What was wrong with her, she wondered? He was a considerate man. Good looking. Always concerned about her. Her mother's dream of a future son-in-law. There had to be something wrong with her that she didn't grab her chance with him. Other women would take him without asking twice, Joyce had told her.

"Yeah, good," she said absentmindedly, pulling off her pantyhose with her free hand.

"Are you alright, darling?," Riley asked concerned. "You sound - tired."

"I am tired," she replied, annoyance clearly audible in her voice. Instantly regretting it, she apologized, "I'm sorry, Riley. Yeah, I'm tired. It was a long day. And I've got a meeting tomorrow morning. Why are you calling at this time anyway?"

"I wanted to hear your voice," he said, and his voice sounded so sweet, so loving, and Buffy knew she should melt and whisper something sweet in return. And if she was a good girl, the kind her mother had wanted her to be, she would do exactly that. As it was, all she wanted was to scream. Really loud.

Hell would freeze over before she would marry this man. He might be wonderful, her mother might love him, but Joyce wouldn't have to marry him, and he was also boring, boring, and boring. And if she was bored now, after only a couple of years of having a loose relationship with him, what would she do if she was married to him for twenty years. Probably kill him and end up in prison with a life sentence. If she didn't kill herself first, that is.

But of course she couldn't tell him that. She couldn't tell him any of her thoughts. Not through the phone. She would tell him. As soon as he came back. For now she had to pretend everything was alright. "That's so nice," she said, trying to sound pleased. "It's ... uh ... nice to hear you, too."

He chuckled, and Buffy was glad he bought her lie. "Alright. I won't keep you any longer. Sleep tight, darling."

"Uhm ... yes. You too - honey."

She heard a click and exhaled a pent up breath she hadn't even realised she'd been holding. At least she hadn't been forced to say anything stupid. Like 'I love you'. But then she hadn't said it so far. Not to him. She had said I love you though. To friends. To her mother. And to Parker Abrams.

No, she scolded herself sharply. She wouldn't think about the scumbag tonight. She needed her sleep dearly. Thinking about Parker would only make her blood boil in anger, and it wouldn't change anything. Certainly not the fact that he had broken her heart, and taken her innocence in more ways than only one, taken away all her naive dreams of life and love.

Tightening her jaw in determination, she removed the rest of her clothes, then reached for her nightgown, and without even considering to brush her teeth, she sank onto her bed and was asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow. Her last thought being that she didn't have the slightest idea why Angel Sullivan had even been on the party.

*

When Buffy was finally able to level up her legs the next day it was almost four o'clock in the afternoon, and she was certain she felt every one of her thirty-four years.

She leaned her head back, trying to release her pounding headache, when there was a faint knock on her door and then Cordelia appeared in Buffy's office. She took one look at her boss, and a knowing expression entered her eyes, "Abrams bothering you again."

It wasn't really a question, but Buffy replied anyway. "Yeah." She released a breath, then shook her head, wincing at the pain the single movement caused her.

"You should make an appointment with Pierro," Cordelia proposed, sitting down on one of the free chair, studying the blond closely. "His hands are pure magic. Your headache will disappear within minutes."

Buffy grimaced, leaned forward, "You should know."

Cordelia grinned good-naturedly, "What can I say, I'm never able to resist him."

"Yeah, well, it wouldn't be a problem for me," the blond replied, running a hand through her shoulder-length hair. Pierro Martinelli was a very expensive, very talented masseur living only a few blocks away from the office. He had also been the lover of most of his female customers. Unfortunately the fact that women usually drooled over his dark, Italian features, had made him believe that no woman could resist him.

Buffy couldn't deny he was attractive, but she hadn't reacted friendly when his hands had travelled from their usual path. Since then she had avoided Pierro. Cordelia didn't mind the guy. She liked to play with men, liked feeling womanly and desired. Buffy liked feeling desired, too, but that didn't mean she'd let some macho Italian touch her wherever he thought women liked to be touched.

"You know," Cordelia said, pulling back to the present. "Those dark rings under your eyes...," she trailed off, sighed loudly. "Not very attractive. You're not twenty anymore, Buffy. You need to take care of yourself. Being past the big 3-0 a woman can't just run around, looking her age. That way you will never meet your knight in shining armor."

"I'm not looking for my knight in shining armor," Buffy protested. "At the moment I'd give everything for a hot bath, a good book, and a glass of dry wine."

"You can't deceive me, girlfriend. You *are* looking for your knight in shining armor. For a while you thought Riley might be the guy, but obviously you've woken up in time. But that doesn't mean you've given up looking for him."

Rubbing her tired eyes, Buffy gave Cordelia a smile. She had once considered it might not be wise to be a friend and a boss at the same time. But they had liked each other from the start and the blond hadn't been able to keep their relationship strictly business. Cordelia might have her flaws and faults, but she was refreshingly blunt, had a wonderful sense of humor, and was loyal to the core. Buffy knew she could trust her with blind eyes and friends like her didn't run around in bunches.

Trying to change the subject, Buffy smiled again, "What happened with your hunk last night?," she asked, trying to ignore the heat spreading through her whole body when Angel's image flickered through her mind.

"Boring," the brunette answered, releasing a heartfelt sigh.

"Boring?"

"Yeah. Boring."

"Why?," Buffy asked, more than just a little bit puzzled. Cordelia had been quite smitten by Angel. So what had happened?

The brunette shrugged, "He ... uh ... wasn't interested."

"Oh?" That was something new. Men were always interested in Cordelia. Buffy felt something stir inside of her, and tried to pretend she wasn't glad Angel had turned Cordy down.

Suddenly the brunette grinned, "No, he wasn't," she said, "But you know what? I'm pretty sure he's interested in you."

"Me?" The blond was glad her voice didn't sound too excited. Dammit, what the hell was the matter with her? Why was it suddenly so important if Angel was interested in her?

"Yeah, you," Cordelia replied, not at all fooled. "He couldn't stop talking about you." She rolled her eyes, "It's not very flattering, you know."

"I'm sorry," Buffy said, feeling anything but.

"Yeah, sure," the brunette snorted, but then grinned again. "Hey, maybe the guy's your knight in shining armor," she said suddenly.

"Oh, please!," now it was for the blond to roll her eyes, "The guy's far too young for me. I could be his mother."

Cordelia snorted again, "Hardly. He's twenty-six, going to be twenty-seven next month. Your birthday was last month. It's only seven years. That's nothing." Her grin widened when she saw the expression on Buffy's face. "Besides," she went on, "Even if he isn't your knight in shining armor. He's a hunk. And I wouldn't let him get away if he was interested in me. Nothing but hot, steamy sex to make you relax."

"Hot, steamy ...," Buffy almost choked on the words, then guiltily had to admit she'd had had the same thoughts only last night. "I hardly know the guy, Cordy," she said evasively.

"I know," the brunette beamed. "That's why I gave him your private number. And I told him you had only free evenings the whole week."

In response the blond stared at her as if she wasn't able to believe this was really happening. "You, what?," she asked incredulously.

Cordelia stood up, and walking to the door she tossed over her shoulder, "I just knew you'd be eternally grateful. Maybe you should check your dresser tonight. You know, just in case." With that she slipped from the room.

Letting her upper body slump over her desk, Buffy groaned.

Part 3

"Hi."

Buffy did a double take, stared at the man in front of her. "H-hi," she stammered, wide-eyed, glad she had the door-frame to hold onto. She wasn't sure she wouldn't faint any moment.

He frowned, looked down for a moment, but she had already seen the faint flush of embarrassment. When his head came up again, he cleared his throat. "I ... uh ... You probably don't remember me..."

**What? Not remember him?**

"... but ... we ... uh ... met, well, kinda. At that party. You know, the one where you attended with your friend. Cordelia."

**So he did remember Cordy's name.**

"Ah. I mean ... uh ... I do. Remember, I mean." **God, and maybe I should just shoot myself. Now he thinks I'm some idiot who can't form a coherent sentence.** She didn't even want to contemplate what might have happened hadn't Cordelia warned her in advance.

"Oh." He seemed relieved. "That's good." A little laugh escaped his lips, but his eyes were still serious, and - as she'd seen before - much too old for a face that young. "I'm Liam. Liam Sullivan."

"I know. Angel," she replied, smiling too.

He rolled his eyes, "I'm sorry you ever heard that," he told her. "Gunn likes to use it." He sighed. "Still."

Her brows quirked curiously, "Still?"

"Uh-huh. My mother used to ... uhm ... call me Angel." Again embarrassment showed on his face, and Buffy found herself irresistibly drawn to it. "Gunn used it to tease me. Then it stuck."

She nodded. "I think it fits."

Again he rolled his eyes. "Well, if you really like it...," he let the words trail off, but the message was clear. He'd just given her permission to use that name. Suddenly he seemed to remind himself where they were. He in front of her apartment door, she inside. "I ... uh ... didn't want to disturb you. But I ... uh ... wanted to see you again. And as Cordelia only gave me your address...," he gave her an apologetic smile.

**Smooth move, Chase, very smooth. Don't give him my phone-number. Give him my address instead.**

**Address?** She frowned. "Cordy told me she gave you my private number."

"No, she didn't," he insisted. "She gave me your address."

**Just wait, Chase. You're going to pay for this.** "Oh."

"Yeah. Uh ... I really don't ... I mean..." He took a step back.

"No," she said quickly. **Can you be more obvious**, she groaned inwardly. Hoping her voice sounded casual, she added, "You don't have to leave. Do you want to come in? Maybe have a cup of coffee?"

**Oh yeah, very smart, Summers, invite strange men into your apartment.**

His eyes lit up. "I'd like that."

**Uh-huh.** "Well, then ...," she made an inviting gesture, and he stepped over the threshold.

"Nice," he commented once he was inside and looked around. "Seems you're doing well."

She laughed, and when she saw him looking at her quizzically, she grinned, "You sounded like my mother. 'You're doing well for yourself, Buffy.'"

He grinned, too, and it made her heartbeat speed up. "I see. Well, if it's any help, my mother only rolls her eyes and I'm sure each Sunday she lights a candle to pray for me."

She laughed out loud. "You want coffee?"

"Not really. It makes me jumpy. So I'm restricting myself to two cups in the morning. Do you have a glass of wine?"

"White or red?"

"Red," came his prompt answer.

She smiled, "Red it is. Come on, there's the living-room. Sit down. I'll be back in a moment."

*

She had to hold onto the counter in her small kitchen, while she took several deep breaths to calm down.

**Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.**

He was here. Right here. In her apartment. She felt her knees wobble and tightened her grip. It wouldn't really help if she'd pass out now.

Hyperventilating.

He was sitting in her living-room.

Waiting for her to come back.

Pulling herself together she found two glasses and the bottle she'd been looking for and taking a deep breath, she managed to smile when she entered the living-room a few minutes after she'd left him there. "Here you go," she announced her presence, putting down the glasses on the small table, filled them.

He stood at the other end of the room, looked up from the painting he was studying. "Nice," he commented, turning slowly back to her.

Nice wasn't quite the word she'd use for the disturbing composition of dark colours. But she had always loved the painting. Her step-father had given it to her a long time ago. "Thanks." She picked up one glass and handed it to him.

She didn't know why she was disappointed by his remark about the painting. Maybe because she had seen more in his serious eyes, more depth. She shrugged inwardly. It wouldn't be the first time she'd been wrong. She usually dismissed mistakes like that. Strangely, this time, she couldn't.

He took the glass and nodded. "You surprised me tonight," he said, glancing at the painting for one last time.

"I did? Why?"

He gave her a little cryptic smile, but didn't answer her question. Sipping from his wine, he looked at her. "Is Cordelia your friend?"

"Yeah," she confirmed, taking her own glass from the table. "Why?"

He shrugged. "You don't seem very much alike, that's all."

A grin appeared on her face, "You're not the first who said that. All my friends think the same. But Cordy is a great secretary, a wonderful friend and ... good for me. I'm sometimes too ... how would she call it. 'Too uptight.'"

His eyes rested on her face for a moment, then he slowly shook his head, "No. I can't see that."

"And you know me - since when?" She sipped from her wine, waiting for his answer.

He shrugged, "True. I don't know you very well. But I know people. I've learned to see what's behind the facade." He paused, then added, "I had to."

She wanted to ask what it meant, but didn't want to intrude. "So you like the picture," she returned to their former subject, nodding at the painting hanging at the opposite wall.

"Yeah." He looked at it again. "It's disturbing. Wild. The stuff some nightmares are made off."

So he did have depth, she thought, and tried to ignore the joy she felt, that there was more to him after all. "I've always felt the same," she told him, gazing at the painting as well. "I think it's wonderful."

"It is," he agreed.

Suddenly he seemed uncomfortable, quickly turning away from the picture, his shoulders tense, his eyes guarded. "Do you know the artist?," he asked.

"My step-father. He was ... a wonderful man."

"Was?"

"He died three years ago," she told him, her eyes sad. "He was the best father a girl could wish for. But secretive where his past was concerned. Given the things he painted, I'd say it wasn't a happy one."

"No, probably not." His eyes were even more serious now. "It happens."

Why did she have the feeling he wasn't talking about her step-father anymore? "Yours, too?" The question was out before she could stop it. "I'm sorry," she said quickly. "You don't have to answer that. We don't know each other good enough."

He smiled slowly, and Buffy felt her insides flutter. "True. But usually you change that by asking questions. So, to answer yours. I don't mind it, by the way. No, my past wasn't happy either. My mother died when I was still little. I was four. My father," he shrugged, his eyes cold, "wasn't really worth being called one."

"Do you have brothers or sisters?," she asked.

"A sister. She's two years younger," he replied. "And a step-brother. My father married again when I was twelve. His new wife already had a son."

*His* wife. Not *my step-mother*, she thought. "You didn't like her very much, I gather."

He smiled approvingly, "No, I didn't. Neither her, nor her son. He was six years older."

"Maybe he was jealous."

He shrugged again, "Whatever. I didn't care enough to try to understand him."

It was a lie, Buffy realised instantly. She really didn't know him well enough, but Angel just didn't seem like a guy who didn't care. Whatever had happened between the two boys, it must have been bad. And had been enough to initiate a dislike for life. But she saw the shuttered expression on his face, and was wise enough not to ask. Maybe one day he would tell her.

**Oh yeah. Now you're losing your mind, Summers. How can you assume there will be a next time? Maybe he's lost interest already.**

Not liking the way her thoughts were taking, she quickly changed the subject again. "Do you like art? I mean, not just this painting. In general."

"Yeah," he nodded, obviously relieved she hadn't tried to dug deeper. "I do. I ... uh ... paint a little myself."

Her eyes lit up. "You do? What kind of stuff?"

"Oil mostly," he answered. "But I'm not nearly as good as your step-father was. Neither am I as talented. It's just for fun. I can relax."

"I'd like to see your paintings if you don't mind," she said impulsively.

Again, she saw embarrassment. "You do? Uhm ... well, alright. But ... don't expect anything. It's really ... just for fun."

Shockingly, Buffy realised she wanted to kiss him. **Down, Summers. You don't know the guy. You've only seen him twice.** Okay, so some people didn't need that long for a kiss. But she wasn't some people. She'd never managed to be a true modern woman where intimacy was concerned. It didn't mean she was uptight either, although Cordelia thought she was. She had a boyfriend after all. And she'd had sex before. But she liked to know her sex partners, not jump their bones on the first date.

**Date?** He'd been standing in front of her apartment. She'd invited him in. That didn't count for a date, did it? Grudgingly, she had to admit that she wanted it to be a date. And then remembered something she'd wanted to know ever since she'd seen him at the party. "Angel?" She saw him wince at his nickname, and had to grin. "May I ask you something?"

"Go ahead," he invited with a smile of his own that made her stomach do a little flip-flop. God, he had a nice smile.

"The party. Why did you go there?"

"You mean because I didn't look as if I belonged there?," he asked, grinned when she blushed.

"I ... uh ..."

"Hey, that's not a problem. I've never been the type for suits and ties," he said, gesturing at his leather jacket and denims.

The outfit was perfect for him, Buffy thought, stifling a groan at the way his denims fit snuggly. Her fantasy was already on a path of its own. "I think your clothes are just fine," she muttered

His smile was warm and a bit more intimate than before. Buffy felt warm all over. "So, uh ... why did you come to the party?," she asked.

"Ah. Yeah, I told you about my step-brother. We don't get along well, but sometimes he remembers I'm around."

"Oh?"

"Mmmm. Whenever he needs my help." He saw her raise a brow, and said, "I'm a PI."

Her eyes widened. "A private investigator?"

"Yeah."

She nodded, lost in thought for a moment, then remembered, "Your brother? Still not explaining why your step-brother has something to do with you being at the party?"

"He works with your company," he explained.

"He does?" **A colleague of mine is Angel's step-brother?**

"Uh-huh."

Feeling suddenly impatient, she sighed. "So are you going to tell me?"

He looked puzzled, "Tell you?"

"The name. Your brother's name."

"Oh," he chuckled. "Sorry, I thought I did. It's Abrams. Parker Abrams."

Part 4

Angel killed the engine of his Harley in front of the little house he and his sister lived in. There was still a light in her window, so she would be up.

He had to smile. She almost never went to sleep before he was back home. Although she was two years younger than he, she was always mothering him. And part of it was staying up until he was home. It was a feeling that made him warm deep inside. She cared.

Maybe it was because nobody had ever cared for them after their mother had died. There had only been them after that, because their father had been too drunk or too busy with women to even realise they were there. At the age of six, Angel was able to cook and wash, and at five Kathy could do the same. They had to, their father didn't care if they went asleep hungry or wore the same dirty clothes for weeks.

They had cared for each other.

And when their father had married Carole Abrams, a woman Angel detested deeply, it had only gotten worse. Nothing they did was right, and she almost behaved as if feeding the siblings was more than she could afford. The day Angel had become eighteen, he'd left the house and after the the terrible night of his sister's sixteenth birthday nobody protested when he took Kathie with him.

He found a job, worked ten hours a day and went to school at night. Often he'd fallen asleep over his books, and Kathie had woken him up, her hand stroking his hair gently, reminding him that he would be more comfortable in bed.

Yes, they cared for each other. Deeply. Probably deeper than usual. But he didn't care. It had not just kept them sane, in a deeper, more important way, it had kept them alive.

He walked towards the porch, but before he could reach for the keys the door opened and she stood there. All five feet of her, her dark hair, even darker than his, gleaming in the lamp-light. Her smile was warm and loving, her eyes happy to see him. "Hi, you're late," she said, stepping back to let him in.

He bent down to kiss her on the cheek, "Not too late. It's not even midnight."

She held out her hands and he shrugged out of his jacket. "What did you do? How was work?"

She shrugged, "Fine. Wes is a great guy, he's so thoughtful."

Angel grinned inwardly at the description of her boss. Wesley Wyndham-Price was thoughful, alright. A transplant from England, he had come to the States to teach. Now he was a professor for English literature and history, and a year ago Kathie had started working as his secretary. It was only a part-time job, and exactly what she'd been looking for. She had a degree in history herself and was currently writing her Ph.D. The job with Wesley was a way to earn money in a field she found utterly interesting.

Lately, however, Angel had the feeling that there was more to the whole thing than just professional interest. Kathie had started talking about Wesley more and more. He wasn't sure if they were the ideal couple, Wesley being several years older than his sister. But he'd met the professor and had liked him immediately. He was a quiet, open, and a little bit shy man. Maybe just what his sister needed after what she'd been through.

Wesley was thoughtful, alright. "So you had a good day. That's good then."

"Uh-huh," she replied, tilting her head. "Did you have a date?"

"I wouldn't call it a date exactly." And really, it hadn't been a date. Standing at a woman's doorstep didn't count as a date, did it? She had invited him in, however, and they'd spent a nice evening together, until he'd told her that Parker was his half-brother. Then all the color suddenly drained from her face. She'd caught herself instantly, but she couldn't get rid of him fast enough after that. Well, he thought, whatever the problem was, he wouldn't let it come between them.

"So you had a date."

"As I said-"

She grinned, "Yeah, yeah, I heard you. What's her name?"

He sighed. Kathie could be incredibly blunt. And she knew him better than anyone else. "Buffy. Buffy Summers."

"Sounds ... interesting." She giggled.

She never giggled. But she had. For a moment his thoughs snapped back to Wesley. Maybe it was time for the big-brother-talk. He grinned at the thought. Kathie would kill him if she knew. "Yes, she is ... interesting."

She looked at him for a long moment. "It's more, isn't it."

Yeah, she definitely knew him too well. "Could be. She's older." He walked into the kitchen in search for something to drink and heard her follow him.

She snorted, "Who cares. Age is only a number."

Oh, yeah, he had to talk to Wesley. Age is only a number? Uh-huh. "She's beautiful, and intelligent."

"Sounds really serious." She leaned against the doorframe in the kitchen. "Where did you meet her?"

"At the party. The one at Parker's company."

At the mention of her step-brother, Kathie's eyes went cold. "She a friend of him?"

"No," he replied, opening the can of soda. "Actually, she seems to dislike him a lot."

For a moment, she watched him, a strange look in her eyes, then she turned away. "I'm tired. Have to get up early tomorrow." When she was already half-way up the stairs, she shouted, "I'd like to meet her. Soon."

He emptied the can, tossed it into the garbage, grinned. If it was up to him she would.

*

Buffy groaned and rolled to her other side. She opened one eye.

2 a.m.

She groaned again. Sleep wouldn't come. She wasn't really surprised. After Angel had dropped his little bomb about being Parker Abrams' step-brother, she wasn't surprised at all. After this revelation, the evening had ended quickly. She wasn't able to do small-talk with him. Not after this.

Liam Sullivan was Parker Abrams' step-brother.

It wasn't just a little bomb. It was more like a nuclear detonation. For more reasons than just the obvious one.

She hated Parker Abrams. She despised him. He was a scumbag. He made her life at the company a living hell. He tried to outmanoeuver her, tried to beat her in every possible field. But that was just the surface. The real problem was, they had been more. Once. Much more.

They had met in college. She'd been a freshman, he in his final year. Good looking. Sophisticated. Successful. And she'd fallen in love with him. She'd been a virgin, a naive little girl, and he'd seen it. And used it without any regrets. She'd lost her virginity, he'd gained another proof for his reputation to be the most irresistible guy at campus.

And she had learned the hard way that trusting a man could be a big fault. It would have been hard if she'd just slept with him. The way things were, it had been a disaster.

She took a deep breath, suppressing the tears that always threatened to come whenever she thought about shattered dreams, and lost love.

Love.

What a joke. It had never been love. Never. Not on his side. And not on hers either, as she'd found out later on. She'd been fascinated by him, but she barely knew him. She'd slept with him after knowing him for only three days. Hardly enough time to love someone. The morning after he'd told her that she had to leave.

She'd never forget the way he'd laughed at her that morning when she'd asked him, wide-eyed, if they would see each other again. No darling, he'd said, he didn't have any intention to see her again. She hadn't been so good anyway.

The first tear was slipping from her eye now. It shouldn't hurt anymore. It had been a long time ago. But it still did. Not because of his betrayal. By realising she had never loved him the healing began. But there was another wound, one that wouldn't heal. Couldn't.

It was the final irony to meet him again at work. And it was even more than he didn't remember her. He'd never shown any sign of recognition, had never mentioned their night together. And knowing the scumbag, he would have used it by now. No, he didn't remember her at all. She'd just been a challenge for him, one to be conquered and soon to be forgotten afterwards.

But she could not forget. He hadn't suffered the way she had. No, she would never forget.

And Angel was his step-brother. Granted, he didn't like Parker either. He hadn't made a secret of it. But could she risk it? The answer was a firm no. She wouldn't. She wouldn't do anything that could connect her with things she'd tried to suppress for so long.

As much as she liked Angel, and she did, as much as she felt attracted to him, she couldn't do it. Not when he was related to Parker. Okay, so they weren't really related, but that didn't matter. She would just forget about him. When he called the next time, she would tell him she was busy. Or ... yes, she would just tell him she had a boyfriend.

It was the truth. She had a boyfriend. It wasn't really important that she'd decided to dump Riley. For the time being, until he came back, he was still her boyfriend. And she would tell Angel. So he would understand that there was no way they could see each other again.

For the peace of her mind, it was the only way.

Part 5

"I can't believe you gave him my address."

A bag filled with bagels came flying on Cordelia's desk, while Buffy rushed past it, into her office. The brunette gave the bag only a quick glance, then raising a brow, she stood and followed the other woman.

"Good morning to you, too," she said, closing the door behind her, barely able to stifle a grin. "So I assume he came to see you last night?"

The blond let herself fall into her chair, ran a hand through her hair, glaring at her secretary and friend, "I don't like the way you're saying this. You make it sound as if we were having hot and steamy sex last night."

The second brow rose as well, "And? Did you?"

"Cordy!" Buffy shook her head. She didn't know why she was still surprised by the blunt remarks of the other woman. But she was. Probably she would never completely get used to Cordelia Chase. "I'm not you. Besides," she sighed, closed her eyes for a moment, "He's Parker's brother."

Cordelia's eyes almost bulged out of her head, "He's, what?" She jumped from the chair, started to pace the office. "That slimy weasel. He just doesn't stop at anything."

Buffy straightened, "What are you talking about?"

"Well, it's clear as day. Parker wants the Phoenix-job. You want the Phoenix-job. And now he uses is brother for this." She stopped, then with a groan let herself fall back into the chair, "And I gave him your address."

"So you gave him my address," the blond said triumphantly. "But you are wrong on the rest. We didn't talk about it, but I have a feeling he and Parker aren't on the best of terms."

Cordelia's brows shot up again, "Well, that's good then."

"Yeah. And no. I mean, yeah, it's good he and Parker aren't pals. They aren't really brothers. They aren't even related. Angel's father married Parker's mother." She saw the brunette smile, and held up a hand, "But still, this is a mess. I cannot be with Angel, while ..."

"Ah. So you're already thinking about him in terms of 'being with him'." A sly grin appeared on Cordelia's face.

"Cordy, I hardly know the guy."

"Didn't know that was needed for hot, steamy sex," the secretary muttered.

Buffy rolled her eyes, "Is that all you can think about? Hot, steamy sex? That might be your thinking, but it isn't mine. I never had a one night stand in my life..." Wrong, her inner voice whispered. Yeah, she'd had a one night stand. But not because she wanted to. She had thought she'd found something wonderful. Something special. It had been a nightmare. It had cost her dearly.

"Well, then it's long time for one."

The blond sighed, "I can't. I'm not like you. I want to know the guy, I want to actually like him before ... you know. The problem is ... I could like him. A lot, actually. And I'm not sure I want that."

"You know," Cordelia said, standing up, giving Buffy a long, hard look. "That's just so you. I'm giving you the opportunity to have a great one-night thing, and in typical Buffy-fashion you have to make it all complicated and ...," she threw her hands in the air, "I don't know what to do with you."

***

Angel yawned when he entered the small office he and Gunn had rented for their detective agency. It wasn't in the best part of town, but it was okay. It wasn't big, but that didn't matter. It was what they were able to pay, and so far it had been enough.

The office had a small reception area with a desk and a computer - bought second hand. It was Fred's place. She was their secretary, sort of. Two days after opening the agency, Gunn and Angel had found her on the doorsteps, half starved, dirty, with clothes torn. She'd been slightly confused, but after feeding her, and cleaning her up, they hadn't been able to get rid of her. She stuck to them like glue.

Kathie said Fred was suffering from some serious hero worship, and for the first weeks her eyes had lit up like beacons whenever Angel had entered the room. Fortunately she was over it now, and over the months she'd proven to be a useful employee and a good and loyal friend.

From the reception area you could reach the two small offices, one for

Angel, one for Gunn. They were equal partners in this.

Angel and Gunn knew each other from earliest childhood, then lost touch for a while, but had met again some years ago while Angel had been working at a bar to pay for his own and Kathie's education, and they'd liked each other from the start. They shared a rough youth, with only little love from their parents, and they both had seen the darker shades life had in store.

"Yo, partner." Gunn's face wore a broad grin when he stepped out of his office. Much to Angel's dismay who loved to sleep late, the African-American was an early bird, and almost disgustingly awake at a time when Angel still needed serious caffeine infusion to get himself half-way going.

"Hi, Angel." Fred beamed at him from her place behind the computer.

"Morning," he greeted back, sipping from the coffee he'd brought in the coffee shop at the corner. "Any news?"

"I checked out your brother's case last night," Gunn replied, sitting at the edge of Fred's desk.

One of Angel's brows rose, "And?"

"It was a blast," the other man's lips turned up into a sarcastic smile, "I've been spending the whole night in my car with junk food and too much coffee. And absolutely nothing happened. Parker owes us big time for this."

"Yeah," his friend agreed. "And he's going to pay."

"I really hate the guy." Gunn reached out took the half-emptied cup from Angel and took a large gulp. "Gino still makes the best coffee around."

"Parker is slime," Fred's eyes were full of disgust.

"He sure is," Angel agreed. "But he's paying big bucks for this, and unfortunately as our business is just starting out, we can't be too selective." He sighed deeply, reached for his coffee again. "But I agree, I'd prefer not to work for him. Kathie almost had a fit when I told you he was our new client."

"How is the little goldilocks?," Gunn asked, taking one of the cookies Fred had always on her desk. He always called Kathie goldilocks although she was dark-haired. It was a joke that went back to childhood.

"Goldilocks my ass," Angel snorted, then gulped the remaining coffee. Running a hand through his short hair he chuckled, "I think she's got it bad for good old Wes."

"What?," Gunn almost choked on his cookie. "Wes?" He rolled his eyes, "God, the guy could be her father."

"Not quite," Angel said dryly. "But yeah, he's older."

Gunn chuckled, "Older or not, the guy isn't standing a chance."

Angel shot him a look, but his face was serious. There were things about Kathie nobody but he and his sister knew. To everyone she looked fine. But Angel knew only too well, that a lot of it had been achieved by hard work and extensive therapy. But because Kathie was so proud of herself, and because he would never betray her trust, he flashed Gunn a smile, "Yeah. That's what I'm afraid of."

***

The door opened and Wesley's head appeared. When his eyes fell on Kathie Sullivan, he frowned, "You are still here?"

His clipped English accent sent a shiver down her spine. How could she ever have believed him boring? "Yes," she gave him a smile, her hands stilling on the keyboard. "I need to type some stuff for my PhD. I hope that's okay?"

The frown disappeared, "Oh. By all means. Type away. I was afraid you were still working for me. And I don't want you to do more than you're paid for." A smile appeared on his face as well. He looked years younger then. "Anything I can do to help you?"

"Professor," she scolded, but her smile never slipped, "You're not meant to help me."

"Oh. That's ... not what I meant. I thought maybe you h-had a question or something." He coughed slightly, looked out of the window.

God, he was adorable when he was all flustered. Like a little boy. She wanted to hug him in those moments, but knew he'd be horribly embarrassed. He was such a nice man, but terribly shy. Sometimes she wondered if he still was a virgin. A little bit irritated with herself, she dismissed the thought. But she was glad he was shy. She wasn't all that bold herself. She wasn't a virgin anymore, but it was a fact she would only too gladly forget. Unfortunately she couldn't.

"No," she forced herself away from those thoughts, and smiled, "I'm fine. But this computer is so much faster than the one Angel gave me."

"Your brother is a good guy," Wesley replied, looking at her. "I'm sure he does all he can."

"Oh, he does," she said quickly, her voice warm. "He's the best brother a girl can wish for. We're close. And I'm glad he gave me the computer, but it's easier to work on this one. Especially with graphics."

His brows shot up, "Graphics?"

She grinned. Wesley was lost where computer were concerned, but he was fascinated by the new possibilities, "Yeah. You wanna see?" When he pulled a chair next to her and sat down, she felt warm all over. It was a good feeling. She felt like a real woman.

Part 6

“Hi.”

Buffy looked up from her desk, her pen slipping from her fingers when she became aware of the man standing in her doorway. “A-angel?,” she stammered, discussing for a moment if this was some wacky dream. Of course she would never admit it to anyone, but her weekend had been filled with dreams. Day dreams to be precise. It had been so annoying she’d finally gone to the fitness studio in her neighbourhood, hoping that exercise would help, that she might fall asleep from exhaustion. She’d fallen asleep alright, but had woken up with her body aching all over, and an x-rated dream still etched in her mind.

He sighed deeply, “Seems you’re already addicted to that stupid nickname.”

She had a hard time stifling a grin, “What are you doing here?”

His day had been crap, not that the weekend had been any better, but today really hit the bottom. From the cold coffee in the morning – Gino’s was closed on Mondays -, to a client who was refusing to pay his bill, to his recent meeting with Parker. So he hadn’t been able to resist the temptation and stopped at Buffy’s office. “I had an errant to run,” he replied, looking around in her office. “Nice,” he complimented, “Very professional.”

“As this is my profession it’s hardly surprising.” She sighed when she realised how snippy that sounded.

One of his brows rose, “Bad day?”

She sighed again. Running a weary hand through her hair, she leaned back in her chair. God, he looked too good to be true. Fresh, young, wearing what seemed to be his professional outfit: jeans and the leather jacket, underneath a black shirt. A woman had to be dead not to notice him. And that was the only reason she felt heat rising inside of her. Right?

She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, “What errant?”

A grin appeared on his lips, “You’re not bad at avoiding answers.”

She frowned at him. “If you must know, your brother and I had an … uhm … argument.” Argument was a pretty loose term to describe the yelling that had taken place around noon. As a result she’d been called to her boss. To make matters worse Riley had called an hour ago, to tell her he would be home earlier. Tomorrow to be precise.

Sitting down on the edge of her desk, he planted a hand on the surface and leaned forward, “Is that so? What a coincidence. I just saw him. Now I understand why he was so … irked. And just for the record, so you don’t forget it again. He’s my step-brother. We’re not related.”

So Parker had been irked? Too bad. “And your errant … was it Parker?”

“Yeah,” he combed a hand through his hair. “Not very pleasant either,” he smiled. “I already told you we weren’t close.”

Eyeing him closely for a moment, she nodded, “Yeah, you did. And so after you talked to your step-brother, you thought maybe if you could annoy Buffy for a while it would make your day?”

This time he laughed, picking up the pen that had slipped from her fingers just before. It was still warm from her skin, and Angel felt his own prickle at the thought. He cleared his throat, “Actually, I thought you could maybe use a break,” he glanced at the clock on her desk, “It’s almost five. So, how about looking at some paintings?”

Not liking the heat she felt rising, she pushed herself away from her desk, then stood and walked towards the window, “I’m sorry,” she told him, “I’m really tired. It was a long day. A visit to a museum isn’t what I had in mind.” More like a hot bubble-bath and some sappy romance novel, but of course she didn’t tell him. The idea of a bubble bath and Angel in the same room was dangerous enough without saying the words.

“That’s not what I had in mind,” came his husky voice from close behind her, and Buffy almost jumped out of her skin. She whirled around, finding herself suddenly pinned between the window and Angel’s body. She felt the heat radiating from him, and almost moaned aloud.

“N-no?,” she asked, hating the tremble in her voice.

“No,” one corner of his mouth lifted into a half-grin, and he took a step back. Enough was enough, he decided. Not that he minded her flustered look. Not at all. The faint blush was very becoming, and the way her eyes darkened was almost irresistible, but he had the feeling that Buffy was a woman who wouldn’t take kindly to being pushed. “You remember I told you that I sometimes paint?” She nodded and he went on. “The idea is, you look at my paintings, say some nice words, and then I’m going to cook for you.” The idea to cook for her had just formed in his head, but the moment the words were out of his mouth, he really started to like it.

He was glad when she smiled in return, “You cook? Do you have other hidden talents?”

She wanted to slap herself the moment the words were out, but of course she couldn’t take them back, so she quickly added, “I mean like … uh … mowing the lawn, or … or … washing dishes … or…”

His answering grin told her that he wasn’t buying a word of it, “Yeah,” he said, “I do dishes on occasion. But tonight that’s going to be your part. After all, I’m going to cook.”

God, this was madness. He might not be related to Parker, but hadn’t she decided that she couldn’t go out with him. “My boyfriend will be back soon,” she blurted, instantly averting her eyes in embarrassment.

“Your – boyfriend?” His voice was casual, but she could hear the hardness underneath.

“Uhm … yeah.” She did look at him then. He was standing near her desk, his arms folded in front of his chest, his eyes narrow. “So you see, I cannot just go out with you. It wouldn’t be … right. I cannot go on a date with a … man.”

A boyfriend, huh? Angel tilted his head, scrutinizing her closely, wondering who this boyfriend was. He wasn’t exactly an expert when it came to women, but he would swear that the guy couldn’t be too important for her. Her reaction towards him had been instant and strong. Women didn’t react that way if they were already in love with another man. Well some probably did, but he was sure Buffy wasn’t one of them. “Well,” he said slowly, “Who said this was a date? I mean you’re the daughter of a man who was an artist. I’m simply inviting you to look at my paintings and then we have dinner – as friends.”

When he put it that way? What could she say? “Friends?,” she echoed weakly, “I suppose that’s okay.”

He beamed, his face all innocence, but she knew she’d been outmaneuvered by an expert.

*****

Wesley stopped in the doorway of his office. Kathie was staying late again. She was sitting at her desk, deeply engrossed in something on the computer-screen, her small nose scrunched in concentration, a frown on her forehead, she looked simply adorable. He quickly closed his eyes and pushed the unwelcome feelings down. This was simply not appropriate. And it was deeply disturbing. Wesley Wyndham-Price, who’d always seen himself as the epitome of appropriate behaviour, who never left the line, who was never late, he was lusting after a student.

He looked at her again, her dark, curly hair held back by a golden clip, only a hint of make-up on her face, and felt his groin tighten. Irritated with himself, he combed a hand through his already dishevelled hair, and cleared his throat.

At the sound her head came up, and when she saw him standing there, she smiled, “Oh, Wesley. I didn’t hear you. Is there something you need?”

Her dark eyes shone like gems, and the curve of her full lips was so inviting, he inwardly groaned, “No,” he said harshly. “Nothing. But this can’t go on.” He gestured vaguely at her and the desk.

The smile slipped from her face, and a worried look entered her eyes, “I’m sorry. I … Did I do something wrong?”

“Kathleen,” he began, purposely using her full name instead of the short form, “This can’t go on. You cannot stay this late all the time.”

“Oh, but I thought … last time you said, you didn’t mind.”

He let out a long breath. This was all going wrong. He’d simply been trying to remove the temptation and now she was looking at him with big, wounded eyes and his gut clenched painfully. “I don’t … I mean … Kathleen, if it was up to me … but people … they are going to talk if you’re staying late all the time.” It was a lie, pure and simple. Not an ass cared if students were staying late. They did it all the time. But it was the first thing that came into his mind. He saw her blink and felt like a heel.

“Of course,” she replied quickly, her trembling fingers flying over the keyboard to shut down the computer. “That’s … of course I understand. I would never want that …,” she shook her head, a nervous laugh coming from her lips, “I’m sorry.”

God, he hadn’t wanted this. She looked as if she’d committed the worst crime. Her movements were jittery, while she collected her things.

Not looking at him, she pushed back her chair, stood and picked up her books and files. “I won’t do it again, I promise,” she said, and to his horror he saw tears gathering in her eyes.

No, no, oh God, no. He hadn’t wanted this. He knew how vulnerable she was, had seen it before. God, he was scum. Worse than that. He was … He reached for her, before he could think twice, when she was about to leave the office. She whirled around, her eyes huge, and the books slipped from her arms. She stared at them, then at him, her whole body trembling.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, already bending to pick them up again, but he didn’t let go.

“No,” he said softly. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” God, these eyes were killing him.

“No, no,” she insisted, “You are right. I don’t want people to think-“

“They won’t,” he said firmly, “People don’t care. It’s me. Kathie, it’s …”

“Yes?,” her voice was breathless.

He was lost. Looking into her eyes, he knew he was a goner, “Would you mind if I kissed you now?”

“Kiss me?,” she breathed, clearly not quite able to follow his train of thoughts.

“Yeah,” he nodded, his eyes intent, his hands trembling on her arms. “I know this is wrong. We shouldn’t do this. I’m much older than you…”

“How … how much older?”

“… But I would really very much like to kiss you,” he finished, ignoring her question. “So would you mind, if I did?”

Their eyes locked and held. “If you don’t say anything, I’m going to take that as a yes,” he whispered, his lips only mere inches apart from hers.

“Yes.”

The moment he heard the word, his control snapped, and he captured her lips in a long, passionate kiss.

Part 7

“Welcome to my humble home.” With an inviting gesture, and an equally inviting smile, Angel opened the door to a small, but well kept house, then switched on the light as soon as Buffy stepped over the threshold. He was a bit irritated by the fact that his hands trembled slightly. His hands never trembled. He had the most steady hands he could think of. And yet, right here and now, with Buffy Summers standing in the hall, looking around curiously, not only his hands were jittery.

“Nice,” she said after a moment, and turned her head to look at him. “I’m surprised.”

Unfortunately her face didn’t tell him if the surprise was good or bad. “Yeah?,” he asked, suppressing the urge to shuffle his feet. Damn, he was feeling like a schoolboy eager to please his teacher.

“Yeah,” she nodded, her gaze sweeping towards the kitchen doorway. “It’s so,” this time she smiled when she turned to him, and Angel felt his stomach unclench, “normal.”

Normal? Again his gut knotted uncomfortably. Normal was good, right? Or maybe to a woman like Buffy Summers, with a successful career, a top class apartment, and an office some people would kill for, normal meant horrible, only she was too nice to say it openly. Not that Angel thought the house was bad. Compared to some apartments, he and Kathie had lived in, and that didn’t earn that name, this house was like heaven. “Normal, huh?,” he said, shrugging off his leather jacket and throwing it over a chair. “Yeah, I suppose it is. It’s nothing fancy.” Hating the way it sounded, he took a deep breath, “Can I get you something. A drink?”

“I’d like a glass of juice if you have.”

She followed him into the kitchen. Angel walked to the fridge, that wasn’t one of those modern two door monsters, just a simple refrigerator. White, ugly, and not very big. Damn, what was the matter with him? He’d never lost a thought about kitchen furniture before. Suddenly it seemed terribly important, and all because Buffy was standing only some feet away.

Opening the door, Angel closed his eyes for a moment, glad his hands were a little bit steadier by now. Was it because she was older? He wondered. Or because she was successful with her job? He’d never had an inferiority complex. No, that was Parker’s part. Right from the moment he and his mother had come to live with Angel’s and Kathie’s father. But why was it so important that she approved of what she saw? She was an attractive woman. He wanted her, no denying there. But it wasn’t as if he was madly in love with her, was it? Besides, she had a boyfriend for goodness sake. She has said so herself. She’d come as a friend.

Forcing his eyes open he let them sweep around, “We have orange juice … and … orange juice,” he told her without looking up. A lot of people had nothing more than orange juice in their freezers. It was nothing to be ashamed of.

“Well, I think I’m going to have orange juice then,” came her amused answer, and Angel was glad to see her smile when he finally closed the door again, holding the pack of juice in his hand. He reached for a glass, “Are you hungry? Or do you want to see the paintings first?” Not that he was really eager to show her. It had been merely a way of getting her to accept his invitation. He really liked to paint, and he even liked the stuff he was painting. But after seeing the one her step-father had done, he felt like the worst kind of amateur.

She thought about the sandwich she’d eaten just before he’d been standing in her office, “I’m not in urgent need of food right now. Let’s see your work first.”

He handed her the glass, glad it didn’t slip from his suddenly sweaty palms, then poured one for himself. His heart pounding in his chest, he led her through the hallway to the stairs. “I’m painting upstairs,” he explained.

Buffy followed him, her gaze falling on a small painting on the wall, of a girl whose eyes were so much like Angel’s she had to be his sister. “How old is your sister?,” she asked.

He didn’t turn when he answered, “She’s two years younger. She’s twenty-four, but going on forty,” he chuckled. “She’s currently writing her PhD, and works part-time for a Professor who teaches English literature.”

“I see,” she replied. He turned left at the top of the stairs. The top floor was lit dimly, but she could still see the worn carpet, the wilted wallpaper. Everything was neat and tidy, but it was easy to see that Angel wasn’t a rich man. Was that the reason he’d seemed so uncomfortable before. Did he think she would look down at him just because he didn’t have the kind of money she had?

He sighed suddenly, “I think she’s falling in love with him,” he said before opening a door at the end of the upstairs hallway, switching on the light. “Here we are.”

She blinked, having been too deep in thoughts about Angel, the house, his most recent behaviour, to follow his words. “Who is falling in love with who?”

“My sister,” he looked at her, and Buffy felt her insides flutter at the intensity of his dark orbs. “She’s falling in love with her English Professor. Or rather former. He’s older than she. A lot older actually.” Suddenly he grinned, and her stomach flip-flopped, “Must be something in our genes.”

She gave him an irritated look, then deliberately stepped away from him, and fully into the room. But the moment her eyes fell on the paintings she felt her jaw drop. Buffy stood as if rooted on the spot. The painting covered the walls, they were stacked in corners, they were piled on the single table. Only very few were framed. Some of them were half finished, as though the artist has lost interest or motivation. There were oils, in colours harsh and vivid, and watercolours – only a few – that looked as if they’d sprung from dreams.

For a moment she felt as if she’d travelled backward in time. True, this room was smaller than the one her step-father had used for his work, but it was the atmosphere, the way the brushes were lying on the table, the smell. She couldn’t really name it, but it was so achingly familiar, she felt her eyes water. Breathing deeply, she forced herself to relax until her emotions settled.

There was a scene from Paris, the Cathedral of Notre Dame. She remembered standing in front of it, not long after her disastrous relationship – if you could call it one – with Parker. Her parents had given her the journey as a gift, and she’d been in desperate need to flee from familiar surrounding. It had been in Paris where the healing started. An easel was set near the window, where the light would come in. A cloth was thrown over it. Obviously Angel didn’t want people to see it before it was finished. Her step-father had been the same.

Feeling the sudden emotions threaten to clog her throat, she said, “They are beautiful,” she said, not trying to hide the awe in her voice. “You said you weren’t as talented as my father, but …,” she gave him a tremulous smile, “you are. Why didn’t you paint professionally?”

He shrugged, clearly uncomfortable with her praise, a faint blush on his cheekbones, “I just never did,” he said. “I suppose it never came up.” He shrugged again, “Besides I hate the way a lot of people talk about art. They don’t know a single thing but they act as if they’re experts.” He forced himself to stay calm, not to show too openly how much her words meant to him. Not just because her father had been a gifted artist, but because she was important to him. He didn’t want her to see him just for the old house with the old furniture that screamed of barely overcome poverty, but for what he was, the man.

He knew she had reservations about him, had felt it from the moment they’d laid eyes on each other. She was older than he, more experienced, no doubt, sophisticated, rich – well maybe not rich, but certainly well settled, successful, and so beautiful his insides ached every time he looked at her.

“I know,” her voice was soft and Angel felt a shiver run down his spine. Maybe it hadn’t been the wisest idea to come up with her. They were standing too close, and he was severely tempted to forget all his good intentions and kiss her right here. But he had sworn himself to go slow, had already realised that she wasn’t one to rush.

“And I’m not as talented as your father,” he insisted. His work wasn’t bad, he knew that. But it was nothing compared to the painting he’d seen at her home. “I never painted anything only remotely comparable to the one hanging in your living-room.”

“But you’re so young,” she replied. “My father painted it three months before he died. He had a lot more time to gain experience. Looking at this,” she gestured at the paintings, “in twenty years time you could be a genius.”

He chuckled and tried not to wince at her comment about his age, “Hardly. I do love to paint, but as I said, I’m not going to become a professional artist. I like to express my feelings that way, but I wouldn’t like my pictures to be taken apart, people giving them meanings they never had, looking for intentions that were never there in the first place. I still can’t stand going to museums and listen to people who discuss what this or that means and why the artist took yellow and not green. I could never explain my paintings. I just paint them. Feel them.”

“You don’t like them to be dissected,” she said, understanding in her eyes. She remembered her step-father saying something very much alike once. Again she felt her eyes water.

“Yeah.” God, her eyes were huge, and he was already drowning in them. He felt his fingers twitch and quickly stuffed his hands into his pockets. Otherwise he was going to reach for her. And that – he knew – would be a bad idea. Very bad. He could remember the wary look in her eyes, before she’d agreed to come with him. He wasn’t going to ruin this evening by behaving like a love-crazed teenager. He was twenty-six years old, almost twenty seven, he could keep his hormones in check.

But damn her lips looked tempting, so sweet and soft, and they were curved into the merest hint of a smile. The hands in his pockets balled into fists. “Maybe we should go down. So I can start to impress you with my cooking skills.” The smile widened, and he had to swallow. “You know …,” he stammered, “one of the …,” he swallowed again, his eyes locked into hers, “skills I mentioned.”

If she had done something, said something, he’d probably been able to keep his hands off her, but when she looked at him with those huge eyes and simply said, “Hmmm,” her voice like a hummed promise, her mouth more tempting than ever, he couldn’t help himself anymore.

Pulling one hand from his pocket, he reached out, cupped her neck and pulled her toward him slowly. He gave her plenty of time to move away, plenty of time to say something to spoil the mood or turn her head or order him to stop. She did nothing. She allowed him to draw her mouth to his, and she not only allowed him to kiss her, she parted her lips and closed her eyes in sheer delight, as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

It was amazing, what the simple touch of the right man’s lips could do to a woman. She felt like melting butter. Her knees went weak, her entire body reacted to the kiss. She tingled, from the top of her head to her toes. She held on tightly and let herself be swept away. What she had seen in his dark eyes just before his mouth has descended onto hers, was what she felt, too. Tension. Electricity. Want.

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been kissed recently. On the contrary. Riley kissed her regularly. But it was nothing – not even remotely comparable, to the sheer power she felt now. She felt Angel’s lips move over hers, in a soft tease, a silent whisper, his tongue swept into her mouth, stroking, while his teeth scratched the sensitive skin just beneath her lower lip. God, she was 34 years old and had never been kissed like that. How pathetic was that?

The kiss wasn’t even deep, or demanding, or forceful, but there was energy here, something beautiful and strangely elusive. Like a dream, like one of his watercolours, and in the back of her mind she knew that it was no more than that, and yet she wished this kiss would go on forever. When he finally pulled his mouth from hers, she couldn’t breathe. She felt that kiss to her very bones.

Oh, no. She couldn’t do this. Her eyes flew open, and she looked at him, his own eyes dark with barely restrained passion. God, what was happening to her? She thought about Riley, her steady boyfriend, the guy her mother wanted her to marry. She hadn’t even broken up with him, and yet she was here, in the house of man who was still a stranger to her, kissing him as if there was no tomorrow. A stranger, who was seven years her junior.

“Wow,” she heard him whisper and the deep timbre of his voice washed over her skin like hot velvet. She felt herself shiver, and realised her hands were still locked behind his neck. Quickly she pulled them away, forced herself to step back, and almost winced at the loss of contact. “You certainly know how to kiss.”

She laughed, nervously, “You’re not bad either,” she managed. “But … I … uhm … thought we would just meet as friends.”

She saw a flash of disappointment flicker through his eyes, but it was gone so quickly she was sure she’d simply imagined it. He straightened, and stepped away from her as well, retreated into the hallway. “Right. Friends.” He took a deep breath, “So, friend. What do you think about pasta and a glass of very good red wine?”

She followed him when he went back down the stairs and towards the kitchen, glad that he didn’t look back when she put her fingers on her mouth, still feeling them tremble with the power of his kiss.

Part 8

Kathie felt herself shiver when Wesley finally lifted his mouth from her lips. His eyes, still dark with something she couldn’t quite name, were gazing down into hers, his hands, tightly wrapped around her waist only seconds ago, let go gradually. None of them said a word, only their laboured breathing was audible in the small office. Her heart was still beating a mile a minute, and she still tried to understand what had been happening to her. Although she wasn’t a virgin anymore Kathie’s experience was nil, and the one time she had been with a man, or rather men, she would gladly wipe from her memory if something like that was possible.

As a result she had believed herself to be unable to feel for a man the way she did now. It had to be passion, she was sure of it, and felt a flush rise up her neck. She was twenty-four years old and didn’t have a clue what the look in Wesley’s eyes meant. Quickly she averted her own orbs in embarrassment, afraid he would laugh the moment he realised what she was thinking.

But he didn’t laugh, in fact he didn’t say anything, just put a finger under her chin and lifted it, so she had to look at him. “Kathie,” his voice was a little hoarse, but the look in his eyes she’d seen before was replaced by concern now. “Are you alright?”

Alright? No, she was not alright. She felt strange, unfamiliar, confused. And at the same time exhilarated. And the kiss had been incredible. Even with her limited experience she was sure that a kiss that made your head spin wasn’t anything that happened regularly. She’d heard her friends talk, about boys who didn’t know how to kiss, and she had listened to Angel and Gunn when they were joking. Nope. Head spinning wasn’t the usual stuff. “I … uh … I’m fine,” she managed.

She saw him release a breath, and a slight smile appeared on his mouth. She thought about the way it had touched hers only moments ago and the flush crept up her face. “I didn’t want to …,” he started, and her eyes sharpened.

“You didn’t,” she asked, not able to hide the disappointment.

He laughed then, a sound tinged with relief, “No, that’s a lie. I cannot remember when I didn’t want to kiss you,” he admitted, his hands still touching her.

Oh my, she thought, swallowing hard. “Oh,” was all she could say.

“I’m glad you didn’t mind,” he told her, his palms moving up and down her arms, sending new shivers all over her body. “I mean the kissing part. I … uh … I’m old enough to be your father.”

“You’re thirty-eight,” she replied and smiled when she saw him wince.

“It’s so good of you to remind me,” he said but there was amusement in his voice. “Still there’s a great age-difference between us. And I’m … I mean you’re so beautiful and I’m not what one would call a prize.”

She knew she shouldn’t laugh at that, but couldn’t help it, “Oh, Wesley. I’m not beautiful. I’m … well, I’m a girl and nothing special.”

His hands stilled on her arms, tightened around them, “Yes, you are. Very special. Kathie you are …,” he was serious again, the smile completely vanished from his face, his eyes. “You’re so precious to me. I don’t … I mean … I’m not very good at this,” he laughed slightly, embarrassedly, “… this relationship stuff. I was a geek in school and college. The girls didn’t really line up at my doorstep. I … I’m sure there’s a string of boys eager to go out with you.”

She had to blink to keep the tears at bay. He didn’t have a clue how wonderful he was. Maybe he wasn’t the best looking guy in the universe, but did it really matter? From the moment she’d entered his office and he’d offered her the job of a part-time secretary she’d admired his mind, his knowledge. He’d never been anything but considerate, and he could be incredibly sweet at times. Like now. “That’s so sweet,” she whispered, “And no, there are no boys.”

“No boys?,” he sounded, and looked so outraged, she had to smile through the water in her eyes. “Don’t they have eyes?”

“No, it’s … it’s not that,” she put a hand on his chest, her eyes widening when she felt his heart beat at the same furious rate as hers. “Some have asked me out, but I … I didn’t want to go. There are things … stuff happened in my life, I … it’s hard to talk about it.”

“You don’t have to,” he told her quickly, smiling down. “But … if you need … if you ever need someone … just an ear … I’m here.”

God, she was starting to bawl any moment now. She took a deep breath, “That’s … maybe I will … tell you, I mean. Some day. But not tonight. And just for the record. I don’t think you’re old. I never thought that way.”

“You might not, but I do,” he muttered, but she’d heard it nevertheless. Finally letting go of her, he stepped away, ran a hand through his hair, that, to her amazement, wasn’t quite steady. “Would it be alright if I drove you home?,” he asked. “I know you usually take the bus but I have my car and –“

“Yes,” she answered quickly, giving him another smile. He smiled back and Kathie thought that she’d never seen a smile more beautiful.

*****

“This is really good,” Buffy said after swallowing her last bite, and gestured at the half empty plate in front of her. “A lot of garlic.” She grinned, “Tomorrow they’re going to avoid me at the office like the plague.”

“Good,” he grinned back, that adorable boyish smile she’d seen throughout the whole evening. She enjoyed seeing it, but it also reminded her of the age difference between them. “More wine?,” he pointed at the bottle then looked at her questioningly.

“No, thanks,” she shook her head, “I still need to drive. But I’d like to have a glass of water, please.” He stood, and as she watched him reach for the glass, then fill it with water, she knew that driving her car was only half the reason for her refusal to drink more wine. True, she didn’t want to lose her driver’s license, but she also had to keep a clear head, which was not that easy being around Angel all the time. The way his shirt was clinging to his upper body, gave her a good idea of the muscles underneath, and his tight denims, riding low on his hips – she would have to be saint if her mouth didn’t water at the view.

Quickly she looked away, not wanting him to see right through her, “Do you cook often?,” she asked, when he came back with her water.

“It depends,” he replied vaguely. “Kathie, my sister, likes to cook, too. Maybe a family streak. My mother was a great cook. We both had to learn it.”

Had to? Her head came up, and she wanted to ask what it meant, but his face had suddenly closed up, and she didn’t dare to ask. She changed the subject, “So, how was your weekend?”

He smiled, obviously relieved that she didn’t press him to reveal things he wasn’t ready to tell, “Boring. Annoying. Take your pick.”

“Sounds a lot like mine.” And it was true. Her weekend had been boring to put it mildly. Besides trying to get Angel out of her head, she had visited her mother, only to have to listen to Joyce’s endless praise of Riley, and when they would give her a wedding date. Not wanting to discuss the matter, Buffy had simply listened, but not given a comment. In the end her mother had been angry with her, telling her she didn’t know how happy she was having a man who obviously adored her. Buffy had left early, and spent Sunday evening at a fitness studio to avoid spending hours alone in her apartment.

Years ago she would’ve called Willow, her best friend from highschool, but Willow was living in England now, was a professor for computer science in Oxford, living a happy life with her partner, Tara. Buffy was happy for her best friend, but sometimes she was missing her badly, like last weekend. Of course, there was still Cordelia, but Cordy was never at home on weekends, always busy with a man, or with a party, or something equally exciting. The brunette’s life was never boring.

“It does, huh?,” Angel gave her a compassionate look. “We were busy with a case and then …,” he shook his head, “I was trying to dig my way through paper work. People always think being a PI is exciting, but most of the time you’re just sitting in your office, trying not to fall asleep.”

“Why did you become a PI?,” she asked, glad they had moved to save territory.

He shrugged, “The truth? I went to college, but because we didn’t have a lot of money I could only afford every other semester.” He reached for his glass, drank some more wine. “And there was Kathie. I wanted her to have the best education possible. When I was finally out of college, I met Gunn. We had lost contact, but we hit it off again, and … well, somehow we were sitting together, talking, and in the end we decided to open an agency.” He took another bite, “So far it’s not bad. We’ll see how it goes. I suppose we have to make it a success, for Fred if for nothing else.”

“Fred?”

“She’s our secretary,” he replied, swallowing his food.

Buffy was annoyed by the sudden pang of jealousy she felt at the thought of a girl in Angel’s office. It was completely ridiculous, of course. Why should she be jealous, and besides, she was the one who still had a steady boyfriend. Quickly she pushed thoughts of Riley away. She would deal with him tomorrow. “So Fred’s a girl.”

He nodded, “Yeah. We found her – literally – one day at our doorstep. She was in a terrible condition, her clothes torn, dirty, hungry. We couldn’t just let her lie there. So we took her in,” he grinned, “And she stayed. Now she’s made herself irreplaceable.”

The grin was more disturbing than she wanted. What exactly was his relationship to this Fred? “Is she … Gunn’s … uhm ..”

“No,” he grinned again, “She’s … I’m not quite sure. A friend, I guess. Our secretary, although she doesn’t actually do office work. However, she’s a wiz with the computer, and that’s something to be admired.”

Now it was her turn to grin, “Don’t tell me computers frighten you.” When she saw the embarrassment in his eyes, she laughed, “You’re supposed to be the young generation.”

“I can use one, okay,” he replied, annoyance colouring his voice. “But I … Kathie is good with them. Whenever I need something she helps. I get around, but I prefer not to use them. They’re,” his grin returned, “scary.”

They laughed and Buffy was about to comment, when the door opened, and they heard voices from the hall. One female, one male.

“I really don’t want to impose,” the man said, clearly uncomfortable with being here.

"You don’t,” the woman replied, laughter in her voice. “Hmmm. This smells wonderful, I bet Angel is cooking again and-“

A young woman stopped in the doorway, her curly dark hair tumbling around her heart shaped face, her dark eyes filling with curiosity at the scene before her. “Well,” she smiled at Angel, at Buffy, “Hello.”

“You’re late,” Angel replied without looking at her. “Buffy, meet my sister Kathie. Kathie, Buffy Summers.”

“And this,” Kathie stepped aside, revealing a man who was clearly her senior, “is Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, by boss.” The beam on her face when she introduced him almost split her face. Buffy remembered Angel telling her about his sister’s attachment to an older man, and had a feeling that said man was standing right in front of her.

“Hey, Wes,” Angel stood, held out his hand for the guest. There was something in his eyes, Buffy couldn’t quite read, but she supposed it had to do with brotherly protectiveness. She barely stifled a grin. It was such a change from the witty, eloquent young man, to the older brother. But Buffy realised she liked it, it made Angel even more interesting.

“Are you hungry? There’s enough left.” Angel stepped back, his whole posture an invitation for the other man. Obviously Angel agreed with his sister’s choice.

“See,” Kathie smiled at her boss, “So, come in. Sit down. I’ll get you a plate and fork.” She shoved Wesley into the kitchen, and Buffy smiled at the man who didn’t seem quite sure if he should in fact sit down or rather run as fast as possible.

“Nice to meet you,” he said, returning Buffy’s smile. “I’m sorry for interrupting your meal.”

“Don’t worry,” she replied, hoping to ease his mind. It was painfully clear that Wesley wasn’t used to company. But it was equally clear that he adored Angel’s younger sister. The way his eyes followed her every movement, the way his eyes lit up whenever their gazes met, told more than words could.

Part 9

“I can’t believe I let you persuade me to do this,” Angel murmured, staring straight ahead, while trying to ignore the disturbing presence of the woman sitting next to him.

Keeping her eyes on the road, Buffy grinned, “It’s not that bad. It’s just a party.” He’d been grumpy ever since she’d picked him up at his house. Usually she didn’t like that in men. In Angel, however, it was simply adorable.

“A party,” he scoffed, still not able to believe he’d agreed to go with her. And that after she’d ignored his calls for ten days. It had to be worse than he’d thought. She’d all but ignoring him for over a week, but one snap of her fingers and he came running like a love-sick fool.

He’d had high hopes after their dinner in his house. He’d been so sure she’d amused herself, that she’d liked being there. And then nothing happened. He’d tried reaching her, called her, left her messages on her mail-box. She hadn’t returned one single call. Not one. And yet, he’d kept trying. Usually he didn’t need more than one hint to understand his attention was wanted, but it seemed where Buffy Summers was concerned hints weren’t quite enough.

“Well, yeah.” She shifted the car into a higher gear, then pressed down the accelerator, a sure sign they’d finally reached the Highway. “It’s a party.” Not that she really wanted to go. But Willow was coming all the way from England, using the opportunity to see her parents, visiting old friends, and the redhead had practically forced her to come, too.

“A Highschool reunion,” he replied, shaking his head. He had to be out of his mind. Why on earth hadn’t he told her no? Because he’d wanted to go, he reminded himself. Everything was alright as long as he could keep her company. Even if it meant to go with her to a damned Highschool reunion. Yes, it was definitely a lot worse than he’d thought. Although he should’ve known it. There hadn’t been a night these past ten days when he hadn’t dreamt about her. In colour, and surround sound. One dream especially had him waking up sweating and aching – and forced him to take a cold shower in the middle of the night.

“You say it as if it’s poison,” she grinned again. “My time at Highschool wasn’t that bad. Actually it was quite good. I was Homecoming queen once.” She’d been a cheerleader, too. And May queen. But she didn’t want to brag, feeling that Angel wasn’t quite comfortable with the subject.

“Figures,” he muttered. It was only logical. She was a gorgeous woman, he could easily imagine what a beautiful girl she must have been.

“Pardon?”

“Nothing.” He straightened in his seat, took a cleansing breath. His own Highschool days weren’t anything he cared to remember. He’d still lived with his father, his step-mother, and Parker. And he’d hardly been able to wait until he was eighteen, which meant he could leave without asking his father’s permission.

“So tell me,” she said finally, keeping her eyes on the road, “What did you do these last days? Any exciting new cases?”

Angel knew she didn’t intend to sound like his older sister, but somehow the way she had asked the question irked him. Obviously she was determined to remind him of their age difference any way possible. Trying to keep his own temper in check, he frowned, “No. Nothing. As I told you, being a PI is mostly boring.”

“So you said.” She nodded, sighed, “My week wasn’t any better.” Actually it had been one of the worst weeks in her life. But she was determined to enjoy the evening, and not let an angry mother, and an even angrier ex-boyfriend ruin it.

He was tempted to say it was her own fault for not returning his calls, but he bit off the words. Still, there was something he wanted to know. “Is the boyfriend back?”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, he is,” she replied, and Angel saw her hands tighten on the wheel. He was back alright, and angry as Hell.

“Oh?,” he turned his head slightly, “And why didn’t you take him with you tonight?”

“He had a late meeting at his office.” And that was the truth. No way she was going to tell Angel that she’d broken up with him, and Riley had taken it a lot worse than she’d expected. After shouting at her for about an hour, he’d left her apartment, then instantly called her mother. That had resulted in a late night visit from Joyce Summers, and more shouting. God, she wanted to pretend the previous week had never happened.

Oh, great! So he’d been the second choice, huh? Well, she certainly knew how to keep a guy’s ego in check. “I see,” he said tightly, swallowing against the lump in his throat. “And you didn’t want to go on your own?”

“No,” she shook his head, laughed a little, hoping it sounded natural, “No, I didn’t. It’s no fun. I can just see all the faces pitying me. No way I’m going to tell them I didn’t have a date because a business date was more important.” Or that I dumped my boyfriend because he was a real disappointment. She was thirty-four, had no ex-husbands, no kids, just broken up relationships that had never been really serious, and never lasted for a long time. Not a good track record to show on a Highschool reunion.

Did he hear anger in that statement? Could it be there were some clouds hanging over the relationship? He straightened even more, keeping an eye on her, wanting to see the expression on her face. “So you called me.”

“Hmmm,” she nodded again, “Yeah. I’m sorry I didn’t return the messages you left on my mailbox, but I was so busy these last days. Partly thanks to your step-brother.” That had been the third reason why she’d had a week from Hell. Slimy weasel Parker was a pain in the behind, acting as if they were working for different companies, not for the same. Couldn’t he see that they weren’t enemies? At least not if it came to their job.

He ignored the comment about Parker, not eager to discuss his step-brother. “Busy, huh? Too busy to call once?” Damn if that hadn’t sounded bitter. He’d better learn to keep himself in check. He cleared his throat.

“I’m really sorry,” she repeated. And she was. Sorry. She’d been so tempted to call Angel, but after her break-up with Riley, and her confrontation with her mother, she’d been too raw to call him. And later, after sanity had returned, she’d taken a good look in the mirror and decided that there was no way a relationship with Angel could work. She wasn’t able to have one with a man her age. How was she supposed to hold on to one several years younger? Sure, Angel had agreed to be just friends, but she wasn’t stupid enough to believe it was possible. The attraction between them was almost palpable. But for tonight she would endure it.

She knew it wasn’t quite fair to use him that way, knew that he was seriously interested in her, could see it every time he looked at her. And if she was completely honest with herself, she had to admit that she could still feel the kiss on her lips, the kiss that had totally pulled away the floor under her feet. Yep, there was no doubt, she was equally interested in him. But that didn’t mean she would act on it. Not at all.

Damn. She swore silently. She had promised herself not to do that. No thinking about kissing. Or the way he smiled. He had a nice smile. One that made her skin tingle.

Stop it. Stop it.

“Yeah, I’m sorry, too.” Sorry didn’t quite describe it. He’d been disappointed, although he’d tried to prepare himself for the rejection. He’d noticed her pulling back whenever she felt things got to close, had noticed the way she liked to point out their age difference. So he’d actually expected her to bail. But it had hurt nevertheless.

“But I needed a friend tonight,” she told him, “I’d really hate them all pointing at me, pitying me. Poor Buffy, no man for her tonight.” Plus spending a night with Angel was something she was looking forward to, even though she didn’t dare to investigate that feeling any further.

Friend, huh? It seemed she was really going to stick to the friend-thing. Well, it was up to him to convince her that being lovers was even better, that being friends was only a first step, boyfriends be damned. “Well, friend,” he said, forcing a smile on his lips, “then let’s enjoy the evening.”

*

It was exactly the way he’d imagined it. Maybe worse. The only good part was that he got to hold her in his arms while they were swaying over the dance-floor. Thank God, he had attended that dance class at college or he would’ve completely embarrassed himself. But thanks to his sister’s constant nagging, he didn’t stick out too much, although his leather jacket certainly wasn’t the standard clothing tonight. But he’d drawn the line at that. He wore black pants, and a white shirt, but had refused to wear a suit jacket, and had ignored the amused grin of the girl who’d taken their coats.

He’d take a lot more, he thought, to hold Buffy like this again. Her head was lying against his chest, her arms slung around his neck, while his own hands were touching her bare back. The black spaghetti-strapped dress she wore was ending at mid-thigh, and clung to her womanly curves like a second skin, leaving her back bare almost all the way down. He’d almost forgotten his name when she’d removed her coat, and he was still trying to recover from the shock the view had dealt to his system. For the first time he was glad he was wearing loose slacks and not his usual tight denims.

The same moment the music ended and her head came up from his chest, her eyes blinking almost sleepily, and Angel stifled a groan the very last moment. Would she look like that waking up, too? Images of Buffy lying naked between sheets shot in his head, making it spin. Jesus, he had to get a hold on himself.

“Buffy!”

Just in time to save him, a redhead came walking over to them, waving enthusiastically, a huge grin on her face. With her was a blond woman of the same age, who didn’t seem completely comfortable with being here. Well, he could relate to that.

“Willow!”

Buffy’s face split into a grin as well, and then the two women were lying in each others arms, hugging tightly, sniffling. “Oh, Buffy,” the redhead said, “It’s so good to see you.”

“And you,” the blonde replied. “Oh, let me look at you.” Buffy pulled back, scrutinizing the other woman closely. “You look wonderful. Happy.”

“I am,” Willow beamed, reaching for Tara’s hand. “We are.”

“Hello, Buffy,” the shy blond woman said, smiling slightly.

“Hey, Tara.” Still wearing the huge smile on her face, she turned to Angel, “And this is Liam Sullivan.”

“Hi, Liam,” both women greeted him, Willow’s eyes wandering all over him, obviously checking him out. “Nice to meet you.”

“The same here,” he replied, liking Willow immediately. She was slightly taller than Buffy, with a paler complexion, but her eyes were intelligent, and very gentle. Tara, who obviously was her life-partner, seemed like a very nice person, too.

He would have liked to chat with them, and maybe hearing more about Buffy, but suddenly an arm came around Buffy’s waist, and a voice whispered, "Hello, beautiful."

Angel saw Buffy turn, then her eyes widen in surprise before a smile spread across her face, "Spike."

Spike? What sort of guy was called Spike? And why? Because of his sexual performance?

"Spike. That's so great to see you. You haven't changed at all."

Hadn't changed? The guy was old! And he was not very big. And skinny. What the hell did she see in him? And he didn’t even want to start on that bleached blond hair. The guy was in his mid-thirties, for goodness sake.

"I should take it as an insult," the blond man growled playfully. "But I don't. You have changed, baby. But only for the better." The man’s eyes swept approvingly over her barely covered body.

Her responding giggle was very feminine and the hairs in Angel's neck stood up straight. He coughed.

"Oh," she flushed prettily, "I almost forgot. That's Liam Sullivan, my date. Liam, that's Spike Stevens, a former classmate."

Angel forced a smile, "Nice to meet you," he said, but his voice was cold as ice.

Spike's return smile wasn't friendlier, "Liam."

"Spike was the guy who always wanted to date me. But I was terribly shy in Highschool. He was the bad boy. I wouldn't have dared dating him."

Bad boy, huh? And she’d been the Homecoming queen. Didn’t that just sound as if taken from a sappy romance novel?

“How about a dance?,” Spike suggested, starting for the dance-floor. “You owe me one, you know.”

She laughed, “Okay, okay.” She gave Angel and her friends an apologetic smile. “Excuse us for a moment.” With that she let him pull her away, laughing again, her eyes sparkling with amusement, and Angel had to hold back a growl.

He almost jumped when suddenly a hand came to lie on his arm. Turning his head he saw Willow looking at him, her eyes full of amusement. “Don’t worry. They’re just dancing.” With a little tug, she pulled him with her towards the drinks. “And now,” she beamed at him, “tell me how it comes that Buffy never mentioned you in any of her e-mails. I have a feeling I missed a lot more than I thought.”

Part 10

“Now, tell me,” Spike said as soon as they had reached the dance floor, “where have you been during my lonely years?”

Buffy grinned up at him, not quite liking the little pang she felt because it weren’t Angel’s arms holding her now. This was not good. Missing Angel’s arms was bad. Very bad. She had convinced herself that it could never work between them. He was much too young for her, almost a baby with his 26 years compared to her 34. Women did mature earlier anyway. Besides, they came from totally different backgrounds. She’d seen such relationships. They always ended it angst and woe.

Finally realising that Spike was still waiting for an answer, she laughed, glad she’d found a distraction from his disconcerting thoughts “Working my ass off?,” she laughed again when he raised a brow. “What? Didn’t expect that kind of language from me?”

“No,” he shook his head, astonishment in his eyes. She’d always been a pretty little flower, and he’d seen a lot of potential in her, but never – not in his wildest dreams – he’d expected her to grow into such a knock-out. She was not just beautiful, but all of her cried of class - and money. It didn’t need an expert to see that the jewels around her neck were no cheap copy. True, her family had always had money, but he knew other girls from similar families and they were nothing compared to her. Plus she radiated the kind of strength he admired. “But I’m all for surprises,” he added on a grin, suddenly feeling as if he’d never really seen her before.

“Are you now?,” she asked, laughing again. She’d always liked Spike Stevens, even had a crush on him at some point, but he’d been taken already, and totally devoted to his girlfriend. Talking about his girlfriend, “How is Dru?”

Something flickered through his eyes, she couldn’t quite understand, but it was quickly gone, and Buffy was determined to have fun tonight, so she dismissed it. But she understood as soon as he answered. “We’re divorced. That also means we got married at some point. And it was good. Fun while it lasted. Then one morning we woke up and realised there was nothing left.” He shrugged, lifting one shoulder, “These things happen.”

She couldn’t hide her surprise, “I always thought you’d last forever.”

“Yeah,” he laughed but it wasn’t a happy sound, “But then, eternity is such a long time. When you’re eighteen, it seems possible, but when you hit thirty you see things differently.”

“Kids?”

“No, thank God. She always wanted a baby, but …,” he shrugged again, “it just didn’t happen. Looking back, I’m glad. I wouldn’t want a kid being stuck between us.” He frowned suddenly, all humour gone from his expression, “The separation wasn’t … nice. I hoped we could stay friends, but …” She almost saw when he pulled himself together, and forced a smile back on his face, “But that’s old news. I’d rather hear about you. Who’s the guy?” He nodded towards Angel who was standing with Willow and Tara, trying his best not to watch. She almost giggled when she saw him staring at his drink.

“Angel?”

“Angel?,” Spike burst out laughing. “What kind of name is that?”

“His real name is Liam, okay,” she snapped, feeling oddly protective of him. His nickname had slipped from her tongue, and she knew how uncomfortable Angel was with it. And she remembered how much Spike liked to taunt people.

“Hey, hey,” he took one hand from her back, held it up, “Peace, okay. It wasn’t meant as an insult. But you have to admit Angel is pretty … unconventional.”

“Yeah, as is Spike,” she shot back.

“Touché,” he agreed. “So Angel … Liam, he looks like your little brother. Is he younger?”

Spike had always been one to find weak spots. And obviously he hadn’t changed. “And if he is?”

“Okay,” he grinned, “seems tonight I’m constantly stepping on your toes. How do you feel about a general apology?”

She looked at him for a long moment, then relaxed, “Accepted. Now, tell me, who is here tonight?”

*

“If you continue to look like that, they’re going to throw you out.”

Angel’s head snapped up, and he tried to focus on the woman beside him, giving her an apologetic smile. “What? Sorry, Willow, I didn’t listen.”

She grinned, liking Buffy’s date more by the minute. “Yeah, I’ve noticed. Liam,” she put a hand on her arm, “Spike and Buffy never were an item. And jealousy is so out.”

“I’m not …,” he started, but at her knowing look, he let out a long breath. “Yeah, I suppose I get jealous. I’m sorry. I don’t even have a right to be jealous. Buffy and I … we’re friends. There is nothing …,” again that knowing look, and he finally smiled, “that is not to say I wouldn’t want, but she … I think she has a problem because I’m a few years younger.”

“Define few?”

“Seven,” he replied without hesitation. “But I … that’s just years. Numbers. My life has been – well, at least I think it was much more difficult than hers. I might be younger in years, but certainly not in life experience.” He sipped from his drink, risked another glance at the dance-floor. She was in the guy’s arms again, laughing. Why the hell had she asked him to come at all, he thought testily.

“Again with the murdering eyes,” Willow murmured and Angel quickly looked away. “Liam, you need to relax where Buffy is concerned. She never was one to be pushed.”

He couldn’t suppress a laugh. Willow certainly knew her friend. “Oh, I know that, believe me. But I’m … I don’t know how to make her see that years aren’t an issue.”

She was still in the guy’s arms, dancing even closer now. He felt his stomach clench painfully, felt the anger burn in his gut. Had she only taken him to show him she didn’t need him at all? No. He dismissed the idea instantly. Buffy wasn’t like that. The woman he had gotten to know wasn’t an unfeeling bitch. She was sweet, vulnerable, and almost shy. At least that’s what he had seen that day in her office, and at his house. She usually tried to keep up a strong front, but he had seen beyond it. Was she maybe pushing him back because he’d seen too much? Did she think he would hurt her, now that she’d let her shield down?

The thought was like a revelation, and he looked up, seeing her with new eyes. And what he saw was Buffy in Spike’s arms, her shield firmly in place. She was showing her strong front, the tough business-woman, while being with him, Angel, she hadn’t been able to hold it up. He couldn’t help the smile creeping up his face.

“What?,” Willow demanded beside him.

“Nothing,” he shook his head, chuckling slightly. “I’m sorry for … Anyways. So how come you and Buffy are such good friends?”

She beamed at him, “That’s the spirit,” she said approvingly, “Alright then, let me start with the day Buffy came to our Highschool…”

*****

Kathie shut down the computer at her office, then looking up she frowned at Wesley’s closed door. It was already half past five, and he hadn’t made an appearance since lunchtime, and that was highly untypical for him. At least ever since they’d kissed in this office, and since she’d taken him home to dinner.

Ever since then their relationship had undergone a drastic change.

Kathie couldn’t remember ever having been so happy before in her life. For the first time she was in love, truly, madly, deeply, and she wanted to burst with happiness. And Wesley seemed the same. Gone was the reserved professor, the cool Englishman, and he was replaced by an attentive friend, who laughed a lot, and who was taking her out for dinner, or just a cup of coffee. They were talking a lot, and laughing even more. And it was heaven.

He hadn’t actually said anything about his feelings, but she would’ve been blind not to see that he liked to be with her, that he enjoyed her company, and that he liked their discussions about literature, or the world in general. And Kathie was determined to show him that age difference was not a problem with them. She desperately wanted him to see that she could be an equal partner, in mind – and in body.

Not that they had even attempted to take that step. No, Wesley was the perfect gentleman. He’d kissed her again, twice even, but he had never tried to take it any further. A part of her was glad for it, for she was still not quite sure how she’d react to such attention, but she could also feel a nagging disappointment, a very feminine longing, to be united with the man you loved. And that frightened as much as it excited her.

Did the excitement mean that she was finally over her fear? That she was finally – after years of panic and nightmares – free to feel like a woman again? Normal? God, the word sounded too good to be true. But on the other hand, could she really trust this feeling? Or would she freeze the moment his hand touched her skin, the moment she realised this wasn’t going to end with a kiss and a smile? God, she was still such a mess. Even after all those years this one night still haunted her, still wouldn’t let go.

“Kathie?”

Forcing herself back to the present, she turned to see Wesley standing in the door of his office. “Yes?,” she managed, glad her voice sounded normal and firm.

“Would it be okay if you took the bus tonight?”

She narrowed her eyes, his voice sounded – different. Tired. He had driven her home each night the last ten days, so this was new, too. “Sure. I already told you, you didn’t have to drive me all the time.”

“No,” he shook his head, and for the first time she saw the shadows of weariness in his eyes.

Instantly alert, she stood, walked to him. There were lines around his mouth she hadn’t seen during lunch. Bewildered she reached for his arm, “Wesley? What happened?”

His eyes were slightly unfocussed, and although he was looking at her, Kathie had the feeling he was more looking through her. Panic rose quickly, “Wesley?” Her voice was sharper now, concerned.

“Nothing.” He absentmindedly patted her hand, gave her a fleeting smile. “Everything is alright. Or it will be. Soon.” He gave her another of this fleeting smiles, then turned to walk back into his office.

But she was having none of it. She held on to his arm, forced him to look at her again, “Wesley, you’re scaring me. Are you ill? Is it your family? Is someone hurt?” She knew he still had parents living in England. Maybe something had happened to one of them.

He looked at her for a long moment, before he closed his eyes, rubbed them, and sighed. “No, they are fine.” When he opened his eyes again, they were bleak, “You’re going to hear it sooner or later anyway, Kathie. So it might very well be sooner.” A second, heavy sigh followed the first, “And I would understand if you don’t want to be here anymore, I mean-“

“Wesley, tell me,” she demanded, panic knotting her gut into a tight ball. “Tell me!”

“I’ve been temporarily suspended from my position,” he said finally, and then he locked his eyes with hers, “A student has accused me of sexual harassment.”

Part 11

He was ignoring her. Not, she told herself firmly, that it mattered. He’d accompanied her as a friend, nothing more, and she had only asked him because she hadn’t wanted to come on her own, anyway. And she enjoyed Spike’s attention. Spike who seemed attached to her side like a leech ever since he’d pulled her out to the dance floor. Not that she was listening to anything he was saying. Instead her attention kept wandering to Angel, who was standing with – she had to narrow her eyes for a moment to recognize the woman – Claire Halloway! Dammit, why on earth did it have to be Claire? She’d been Buffy’s Highschool nemesis, the self-declared Queen of Highschool, the girl who had beaten her year after year, except one, in the run for Homecoming Queen.

And now she was clinging to Angel like a climbing plant. And he even seemed to enjoy it, he smiled, laughed, accepted the drink she was handing him. He was laughing again. And now he even winked! Buffy felt her insides clench traitorously. She didn’t care, dammit! Angel was no more than a friend, if even that, there was no reason for her to feel something that was strangely close to jealousy.

Jealousy! Pah!

The only reason her gut was twisting heavily was simply because she’d always hated Claire Halloway. Or course that had to be the explanation. It had nothing at all to do with jealousy. Nothing.

Content with her own reasoning, she managed to tear her gaze away from the man who was supposed to be her companion for the evening, and turned to the one who had turned out to be, beaming at him brightly. “Spike, I’m rather thirsty. Would you mind getting me something cold and not too sweet?”

“Sure,” he replied with a wink, then disappeared in the crowd surrounding the beverages. She looked after him, the guy she had lusted after in Highschool, feeling absolutely nothing. He was a nice guy, witty, fun to be with, but he was also not tall enough, although he was still taller then she, he was too skinny, although she could also do with a few more pounds as Cordy had pointed out recently. And he was blond, although so far she’d preferred blondes to any other colouring in a man.

So far, yeah, but not anymore. Thanks to a certain someone she choose not to mention her whole world was hanging askew and she didn’t like it. Not one bit. Thanks to Angel no other man seemed tempting enough, not even the guy she’d been dreaming about all through her teenage years.

Disgusted with herself, and her own weakness, she turned only to come face to face with, “Willow!”

The redhead raised her brows and barely suppressed a grin, “How nice to see you again. Are you Buffy, by any chance? The friend I wanted to meet tonight, but who got lost with a certain bleached blond man who once was the star of her colourful teenage dreams?”

“I am so sorry,” Buffy put a hand on her friend’s arm and gave her a regretful look.

With a dismissive gesture, Willow put the other woman at ease, “Don’t worry. We’re going to see each other next weekend. But Liam seemed slightly … shall we say … disturbed at the way Spike has been monopolizing you.”

Her gaze travelling to the man in question, the blond snorted, “Yeah, sure. That’s why he’s been drooling over Claire all night.”

“So you do care?”

Whirling around, Buffy looked into the slightly amused face of the woman who’d been her friend for so long. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Willow grinned, “Just that you did your best tonight to demonstrate how little you care for him. That’s not the way to get a man, you know.”

The blonde’s eyes narrowed instantly, “I don’t want to get him, as you put it. He’s a friend, nothing more.”

“He is?” the redhead’s brows rose again, “Strange, I got the very distinct impression that there is something between you. The way you two look at each other – especially if you’re sure the other isn’t noticing.”

“I am not looking at him that way!” Buffy said firmly. No way she did care for Angel that way. He was nice, granted, and sexy, sure. But that’s where it ended. Couldn’t Willow see that? “He is a friend.”

“Yeah, you keep saying that, and I’m wondering if it’s merely to convince yourself.”

Before Buffy was able to respond to that outrageous statement, Spike appeared again, hading her a glass. “Here, club soda with lemon. I hope that’s okay.”

“Fine, thanks,” she beamed at him, even more brightly than before. So maybe she was sexually attracted to Angel, okay, maybe even strongly, but that didn’t mean she was … God, this was ridiculous. She ignored Willow’s meaningful look, and sipped from her drink. Maybe it was going to help her to cool down. She felt so hot, she was already wondering if the room was overheated.

*****

“Sexual harassment?” Kathie stared at Wesley in shock, her eyes wide and disbelieving, he felt her hand tremble on his arm. What was she going to think of him now? She hadn’t said a lot about her past, but he’d gotten the distinct impression that somewhere a man had forced himself on this sweet, vulnerable woman and left deep scars in her soul. How was she going to react to such an accusation? Would she run in horror? Or merely retreat to a safe distance? Either way, he wasn’t sure he could stand it. To see her looking at him in disgust was more he was able to bear.

“Yes,” he nodded, patting the hand on his arm, “One of my students made an official complaint. The Powers have suspended me from my post as long as the case is not decided.”

Her hand fell from his arm, and he smiled sadly, having expected her to do exactly that. But he almost jumped out of his skin when she suddenly shouted, “How dare they?”

His head shot around, and he found himself staring at five feet four inches of enraged woman. Her eyes were shooting fire, and her hands were clenched into tight fists at her sides. “How dare they!” she repeated, her voice rising even more, “This is ridiculous. You would never do such a thing. Can’t they see that?”

Wesley was hardly able to believe what was happening right in front of him, and stuttered, “Y-you don’t think I … I mean …”

“Of course not,” she snorted. “This is so utterly ridiculous. You would never force yourself on a woman, much less one of your students.” Her voice lowered, her eyes softened, “I know you, Wes. And I trust you. Do you think I would if I thought you capable of such things?”

He was humbled beyond words by her trust, and was hardly able to speak, his throat so tight, he had to swallow over the lump that had formed there. “Kathie.” Her name was all that came out, and he didn’t know how it happened, but suddenly her arms were wrapped around his waist, and he felt her hot breath through the thin material of his shirt.

“Kathie,” he repeated, holding her tight. “You don’t know what this means to me. To see you believe in me.”

“Of course I believe in you. As I said,” her head came up, and a smile bloomed on her features, “I know you. And besides, I have a brother who happens to be a detective. You see, we’ll have this solved in now time.”

At that he couldn’t help himself. Before he could contemplate his next move, he was already kissing her.

*****

It was about ten p.m. when Angel found himself seriously wondering why he’d been stupid enough to go this darned Highschool reunion. Or rather why he’d given in. No, that wasn’t true. Given in would’ve required persuasion, right? But instead of making himself hard to get, he’d all but jumped into that car, thrilled by the idea that he could spend some hours at Buffy’s side.

What a joke.

Instead of feeling cheerful because he was with the woman of his dreams, he’d had to spend the last three hours watching her flirting with Spike, dancing with Spike, or just being near the annoying blond guy. If he’d be wearing a tie – like most of the other guys at the “party” – he’d yank it off and throw it on the ground in frustration. And if watching Buffy with Spike wasn’t enough, he’d been forced to endure the attentions of Claire Halloway, who – as he knew now – had been Buffy’s Highschool nemesis, and who obviously found it extremely amusing to hit on the guy who’d come with Buffy Summers.

At least he was safe from her now, Angel mused with an inward sigh. That was the good part. The bad part was that he was now standing with Willow, Tara, Buffy, and of course Spike, who didn’t seem to be able to make a step on his own. Angel looked at his hands, then at his rival’s throat, assessing how well the former would fit around the latter.

Hardly to believe his own train of thoughts, Angel took a deep breath. This was going too far, if he was keeping this up, he was going to snap tonight and do something stupid. Like maybe beating the other guy up. Not that he actually deserved it. If he was honest with himself, Angel had to admit that Spike had done nothing to deserve his wrath. Buffy was the one who had brought him, but he couldn’t be angry with her either. He liked to think it was because she was doing what she was doing unconsciously, but he had the feeling that being angry with her just wasn’t part of his software, as Fred would call it.

Admit it, Angel, he thought with not a little amount of resignation, you’re completely besotted with this woman. And after watching her tonight, he wasn’t so sure anymore if this was a good thing.

Damn, this had never happened to him before. There had been women in his life, but so far, Angel had always managed to keep control over his relationships, if you could call them that. Some of them had been extremely short-lived, although he didn’t do one-night-stands, always wanted to at least care for his partner, even if their connection didn’t last long. But with Buffy, so it seemed, he was swimming in an ocean, the shore nowhere in sight, and he was more than a little afraid of drowning. Because one thing he knew for certain, Buffy had the power to hurt him – badly, and he wasn’t sure if he was going to recover any time soon – if ever.

He was just trying to focus back on the conversation floating around him, trying not to be annoyed by another one of Spike’s flat jokes, when his cell phone rang. Four pairs of startled eyes turned towards him, and he gave them an apologetic glance, before he pulled it from his pocket, and flicked it open, “Yeah?”

“Angel, it’s me.”

“Kathie?” A sick feeling immediately settled in his stomach. His sister never called him. Never. Except in a case of emergency. “What happened? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” came her voice from the other end, but she sounded anything but. In fact she sounded distressed. “I’m so sorry to interrupt your evening with Buffy, but this isn’t about me. And I’m so … so angry, I had to call.”

Realising that the others were trying to understand what was going on, he covered the mouthpiece for a second, “It’s my sister. I’m sorry, this seems to be urgent.” He turned away then, concentrating on his sister’s voice. “Now, tell me, Kat, what’s going on?” He listened intently as she explained the reason for her call, described Wesley’s situation. “I didn’t know,” she said finally, “when you would be home tonight, that’s the only reason I called. Wes is worried sick. We need to do something.”

He didn’t want to but he had to ask. “You are sure he is innocent?”

“Of course.”

“Alright, baby, I’ll try to leave here as soon as possible. Tell Wes, Gunn and I will be with him first thing tomorrow morning. Tell him, we’re going to take care of this. And do me a favour, please try to sleep. I know your care for Wes-“

“Yes, I do,” she said firmly, and he knew her well enough that she was really serious about the guy.

“Okay. Call him. Tell him what I told you. We will talk tomorrow. I’ll try to leave soon, but it’s a two hour drive, so I won’t be back before midnight.”

“Alright.” He heard the relief from the other end, and the rolling in his gut settled. “Thanks. I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

With that he switched the phone off, and turned, locking his eyes with Buffy’s. She might have ignored him for the better part of the night, but he couldn’t let it matter right now. He would’ve loved to have found another way to get home, giving her the cold shoulder for a change. But this was too important, he’d just have to nurse his own hurt feeling.

“Thas was Kathie. She needs me to come home as soon as possible. She’s terribly upset because a friend is in trouble.” He didn’t say Wesley’s name but he saw the understanding dawn in Buffy’s eyes, and nodded, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to break this up, but this is important and I need to go. Now. Willow, Tara, I’m terribly sorry.”

“No problem,” the redhead gave him an understanding smile, “We understand.”

“Of course,” Tara added.

Buffy didn’t hesitate a second, snapping her purse from the near by table, “Then come. Will, Tara. We’ll see each other next weekend. Spike, it was good to see you again, and I’m sorry this has to end so abruptly, but you heard. This is an emergency.”

“Baby sister calling the big brother, huh? Yeah, of course the white knight has to ride to the rescue,” he said flippantly in an attempt to make another joke.

But Angel had had just about enough of the always witty, always chatty Mr. Stevens, whose real first name he still didn’t know. There had to be real name, he’d decided earlier. No mother in her right mind would call her son Spike.

He whirled around, nailing the other man with what he hoped would be a murderous gaze, and only Buffy’s warm hand on his chest prevented him from grabbing Spike at his throat. “Angel,” she said softly, but firmly. “Think about Kathie. And Spike,” her eyes were suddenly cool, her voice even icier, “this was uncalled for. You don’t know what this is about, so keep out of it. Angel,” she put her other hand on his arm, pulling him with her towards their coats, “let’s go.”

He followed her, but shot the other man a last warning glance before they left. He had the feeling it wasn’t the last he’d seen of Spike Stevens.

Part 12 --- rated R for sexual situations *g*

From the corner of her eye she saw glimpses of him whenever the moonlight fell over his features. His jaw was set, his eyes staring straight ahead, and there was nothing relaxed about his posture. In fact he was so tense, she was expecting him to crack at the merest touch.

Buffy wasn’t quite sure what had caused this behaviour, if he was simply concerned for his sister, and how she would deal with the news about Wesley, or if she was part of it, too. Now, back in her car, with more time to think than she cared for, she realised what a bitch she’d been tonight. After purposely ignoring his phone calls for more than a week, she’d used him as her date for the party, only to flirt with Spike the whole evening, showing Angel in the process she couldn’t care less for his company.

The problem was, she did care for his company. A lot more than it was good for the peace of her soul. Even without his constant phone-calls she wouldn’t have been able to ban him from her thoughts. Whenever she closed her eyes she saw his face, that outrageous grin, the deep knowledge in his dark orbs, his uneasiness in showing her his home, unsure how’d she react to it, and the way his eyes had followed her while she’d been studying his paintings.

They were another reason she hadn’t been able to forget about him. Having grown up around her step-father, her eyes had been schooled by one of the best, and she’d instantly seen the immense talent, the way Angel was able to express his feelings with colours and style. He claimed he wasn’t that good, but she knew he was wrong. If he would concentrate on art, he could become really famous. If others saw the things she’d seen, he would be a star in no time.

She was fascinated by the personality shining from the paintings, the devotion, she could see in each stroke of the brush, the way he was playing with colours and emotions was simply breathtaking. Even if she hadn’t seen the man behind them, she would’ve had a hard time forgetting about him.

As it was, the man himself was sitting beside her, tension still radiating from him, doing his best to ignore she was there at all. Finally she couldn’t stand it anymore, and asked, “Are you ever going to tell me why your sister called? Or are you going to punish me by pretending I’m not here.”

“You mean because I had such a good time tonight?” has asked right back, and although his voice was controlled, she could hear the anger in it.

She sighed, knowing that his accusation was only fair. She had been ignoring him all night after all. “I’m sorry. I know I behaved badly tonight. I … I don’t know what came over me … why I …” she sighed again, realising she was lying through her teeth. She knew very well why she had behaved like a bitch tonight, but she wouldn’t, couldn’t deal with it right now, and came back to her first subject, “So are you going to tell me? Only if you want, that is.”

He seemed to contemplate it for a moment, then she saw his shoulders relax slightly, before he said, “It was about Wes. It seems he’s been accused of sexual harassment by one of his female students.”

Buffy almost did a double take at that, “He, what? But … I can’t believe it.” She almost had to laugh, and she would’ve, hadn’t she already seen what an accusation like that could do to a person. Especially to a man as sensitive as Wesley. She didn’t know him very well, but from their evening she’d gotten the impression he genuinely cared for Kathie Sullivan, and that he wasn’t the kind of guy who forced himself on women.

“I can see why Kathie is concerned,” she said with a side-glace at Angel, “These kind of accusations can be quite serious.”

“Yes, she is, and I agree that it can be a serious offense,” he replied, relaxing another bit. “She cares a lot about him, and although I’m still not quite certain what to think of their … involvement … She hasn’t cared for a man that way since-.” He stopped abruptly, a frown appearing on his forehead for a moment. It was gone quickly and he went on, “Anyways. I didn’t want to separate from you friends.”

There was an emphasis on the word friends, Buffy noticed easily. “Spike and I go a long way back. I … had a thing for him in Highschool. Nothing ever came of it. He had a steady girlfriend then. She was older than me, beautiful, and very possessive. And he was totally in love with her. And besides, I already apologised for my behaviour tonight. I am really sorry, I shouldn’t have ignored you the way I did. And just for the record, Spike and I are just friends.”

“Could have fooled me,” he muttered, but she’d heard it nevertheless.

“Okay, yeah, I might have gone a little overboard tonight,” she agreed, remembering the fluttering lashes, the bright smiles she’d given Spike. “But, Angel, the problem is-“

She never finished her sentence, because that very moment there was a loud noise, and then the car severed on the road. Buffy gripped the wheel tightly, trying to hold the car on track. She was an experienced driver, but even her experience didn’t prevent the car from slipping from the road into the bushes, where it came to an abrupt halt.

“Are you alright?”

She heard the concern in Angel’s voice as he tried to fee himself of the safety-belt. “Yes, yes, I’m fine. Just a bit shaken.” Which was a true understatement. She felt her insides flip, and her hands, still lying on the wheel, had started to tremble. “What was that?”

“A guess?” Angel reached for the door, pushed it open, “I’d say one of your tyres just ended its long and dutiful life.”

Her eyes widened, “You mean I have a flat?” Oh, no, please no. “A flat tyre.” They were on a Highway, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, and it wasn’t very likely another car would pass them any time soon. This was great. Just wonderful. Why on earth was this happening to her? And why tonight of all nights?

Angel nodded before climbing out, careful not to get caught in the bushes, “That’s exactly what I think.” After a moment he appeared at her door, pulling it open, “Yup,” he held out his hand for her, “The hind left is beyond saving.”

She stared at him, still trying to understand what he’d told her. She had a flat tyre. Which meant… ”Are you absolutely, undoubtedly sure?”

A small frown appeared on his forehead, as if he might question her hearing, or her sanity, or maybe both. “Okay, I admit I’m not exactly the expert on flat tyres. But see for yourself, this one,” he nodded at the one in question, “looks definitely flat to me.” He must have seen the colour rush from her face, because he hurried on, “Hey, that’s no reason to faint. I might not be an expert, but I have changed tyres now and then. We’ll have this little baby running again in now time.”

He turned and walked towards her trunk. He wouldn’t have guessed her to be the panicky type, but obviously he’d been wrong. He reached for the button to open the trunk, but before he even touched it, her voice stopped him cold. “That’s no use. There isn’t anything there.”

What the hell… “What do you mean, there isn’t anything there?” Despite her words he opened the trunk and was greeted by emptiness.

She could see the incredulity in his eyes, and smiled sheepishly. “Uhm … no spare tyre, that is. I … uh … My sister moved about two weeks ago. I helped her and to have more space…”

“… you removed the spare tyre,” he finished her sentence, running a hand through his hair, at the same time exhaling loudly, on an expletive. He didn’t use them regularly, but tonight might just be the time. This night certainly couldn’t get much worse. “Which means we’re stranded in this goddamn wilderness in the middle of the night.”

“It’s not the wilderness,” she argued, raising her chin at his hidden accusation. No way she was going to spend a whole night … endless hours … with Angel … in the confined space of a car. No way. Nuh-uh. Denial would never work in such close quarters. “We’re right beside an Highway. Someone will come … soon.” People did drive during the night. She and Angel did it. Certainly someone would come…

“Yeah, sure,” he shook his head, then chuckled slightly, although it didn’t exactly sound amused. “Get real, Buffy. The way I see it, we’re going to spend the night in your car, if we like it or not. Because I don’t see anyone coming to our rescue.”

“Well, we do have our cell phones,” she replied, already diving into the car to get hers. “We can call-“

“What? You’re going to keep the local sheriff or whoever is going to come from his well-earned sleep just because you forgot to put the spare back in your car?” He slightly tilted his head, “On a second thought, that’d be exactly what someone like you would do.”

“No, I’m not going to call the local sheriff. Never heard anything about roadside help, huh?” With that she punched some buttons on her cell, waited for the other party to answer. When nothing happened she tried it again, listened, then with a disgusted snort stuffed the phone back in her pocket. “Just my luck,” she muttered, “The line is out of order due to temporary technical problems.” She threw her hands in the air. “God, this can’t be happening. It’s a nightmare.”

“You act as if the world’s going to end.” Angel slightly shook his head.

“I just don’t care for a night in a car and … What did you mean by saying, someone like me?” she asked suddenly when she remembered his words from before. “Like me, what? What do you think I am?”

He held up his hands, “Forget it, alright? I’m not in the mood for this.” He rubbed a hand over his tired eyes. Why in God’s name had he ever agreed to go with her tonight? He looked at her, standing in the moonlight, her party dress clinging to her womanly curves, her legs long and tempting. And he also saw her big, expressive eyes, clouded with a mixture of anger and worry, and her mouth, rich and full, and oh so tempting. And he knew only too well why he’d come with her. Damn his hormones. He’d never had problems controlling them before, but ever since Buffy’d appeared in his life, nothing seemed to be like it was anymore.

“You are not in the mood?” she shot back, her voice rising. “You insult me … or at least I think you did, and then you just end the discussion?”

“I don’t want to discuss it, okay?” he replied, trying to keep his voice down. “We will spend the night together in this car. Maybe we shouldn’t try to make it even more uncomfortable by fighting.” Remembering Kathie who was still waiting for him at home, he reached for his cell-phone.

Her eyes narrowed slightly at that, “Are you going to call for help now?”

Ignoring the sarcasm in her voice, he didn’t look up while punching the number, “No, as you said, the line doesn’t work. I’m going to give Kat a call. She needs to know where I am or she might worry.”

Suddenly feeling like an insensitive heel, Buffy quickly looked away, ran a hand through her long hair. Of course Angel was going to call Kathie. That was showing again what kind of guy he was. And why she’d liked him from the start. He would be perfect, if… Damn. Don’t go there. Especially not now. You’re going to spend the night with the man. Okay, so nothing’s going to happen, she thought, trying to ignore the little pang of disappointment, but still. He is right, we should try to get along tonight. But hey, she’d told him she was sorry, right?

She heard him talk to his sister, explain why he’d be delayed, then he laughed slightly. “Kathie sends you her best,” he told her. “She said it’s just my luck to strand with a flat tyre and to have to spend the night with a beautiful woman. She offered to come and get us, but I could convince her to stay with Wes. I think he needs her a lot more right now.”

“It’s my fault, remember,” she snapped, feeling her gut flutter at his words. Did he really think she was beautiful? Her mouth was suddenly dry and she had to clear her throat before she was able to continue, “Okay, then. Maybe we should … you know, talk about how we’re going to do this.”

He chuckled at that, “Not to repeat myself, but I can’t believe you never spend a night in a car. On the other hand, people like you-“

She was in his face before he could finish the sentence, “And here we go again. What the Hell do mean by that. People like me? What kind of person am I?”

God, she was adorable, with the fury darkening her eyes, the righteous anger sparkling in them. His pants suddenly felt too tight. Gunn was right. His friend had told him he needed to get laid. And he was right. Angel needed sex, a lot of it. But the problem was, he didn’t want to have it with just any woman. He wanted Buffy. Unfortunately she didn’t want him. He still couldn’t believe he’d been so wrong about her, she’d been so responsive during their kiss at his house, but tonight her actions couldn’t have been clearer had she hit them home with a slash-hammer.

She was still looking at him, a furious goddess in the pale light of the moon, her hair almost white, she had an eeriness about her that took his breath away. “Tell me,” she demanded.

All he wanted was to take her and kiss her senseless. “Look, I didn’t mean to-“

“No,” she put her hands at her hips, “You are not going to do it again. I want an answer, now.” This was a lot safer, than all the other feelings racing through her. He was standing close, too close, and even with his clothes rumpled from the car, and the weariness etched in his face, he was simply too damned attractive. Angel would at least help her to get her mind from straying. This way she could blame her anger for the furious beating of her heart. And besides, his accusations really infuriated her. She had an idea what they were about, and she didn’t like them one single bit.

God, she was beautiful. He tried to pay attention to her anger, tried to focus on her question, but it was in vain. All he could think about was the tempting woman in front of him, x-rated images flashing through his mind. How would she look, naked, bathed in moonlight, slick with sweat? Jesus, he was going to lose it.

He quickly turned away, but before he could even draw a calming breath, she grabbed his arm, pulled him back to her, forced him to look … and then it happened.

“You know what…” she started, but the words died on her lips. Their eyes locked and held. Buffy felt her mouth go dry, felt her voice clog in her throat, felt her knees go weak. The raw passion she saw in his eyes was like a shot of aphrodisiac.

Like a wildfire initiating from a single flame they were in each others arms. But this time it wasn’t the kind of kiss they’d shared in his house. There was nothing of the romantic tension, the heating passion. No, this was urgent, groping like teenagers their hands were seeking contact.

Angel’s lips raced over her face, as if there wasn’t enough time left to taste every inch of her, while he crushed her against him, her lips showing him the same frenzy need he felt deep inside. When their mouths finally met, they parted instantly so their tongues could meld, so they could deepen the kiss before it really began.

Angel lifted her from the ground, devouring her mouth again, her legs coming around his waist with a will of their own, and she moaned deep in her throat when she felt the cold surface of the car behind her, his hips grounding into her again, showing her the extent of his need, initiating the same in her. She felt the warmth between her legs, and suddenly didn’t care that it was betraying everything she’d so desperately tried herself to convince of. Right now, all she could feel, all that mattered, was the body close to her own, the head radiating from him, the arousal she could not only feel pressing against her thigh, but on every inch of his skin.

His shirt was ripped apart on his collar, but he didn’t care. He’d never find the buttons again, but he hadn’t liked it anyway. He’d only put it on so she’d be pleased with him, so she might very well be the one to rip it off him as well. Her hands on his bare skin felt like Heaven. God, her mouth tasted like honey, so sweet, and tempting, and hot, and the little noises she made were driving him crazy. There was a part of his brain that tried to remind him they were right beside a Highway, and he was close to making love to her on the hood of her own car, but he didn’t, couldn’t care. This was what he’d wanted from the moment he’d seen her on the party, and although he’d imagined their first time in a bed, slow, and lasting, after tonight nothing else was possible. The tension had built steadily, and it seemed only fair for it to erupt in an explosion of feelings.

And she couldn’t touch him fast enough, completely enough. She wanted to discover every inch of him at once. His powerful shoulders, his muscled back, the impossible hard wall of his chest. Her entire body was on fire, burning with need, pulsing with longing, pent up for years, or maybe forever, never sated by the right men, the throbbing between her legs now so acute it bordered on pain.

Angel caught her wrists with one hand, pinned them to the cold surface of the car, while the other was going to her back, opening her dress, pulled it off, before he started devouring her. His mouth was almost rough, hungry, his teeth slightly scraping her skin, where they were travelling down her neck, towards the valley between her breasts, remaining there for a moment, unclasping the front lock of her bra, then lower still, to her navel.

When his tongue delved inside, she arched from the car, the sweet torture he was inflicting on her almost too much to bear. Her legs came around him once again, and she tried to free her hands, wanted to touch him, wanted to open what he still kept hidden from her. But she shouldn’t have worried. Before she could finish the thought, she heard a zipper open, then heard him groan, “God, I can’t wait.”

“Then don’t,” she returned on a hiss, gritting her teeth against the ache between her legs. “Don’t wait,” she urged him again. “I want this. Now.”

And he didn’t need any other encouragement. When he slipped inside, it was so powerful, they both cried out at the final completion. And then they were rocking together, holding each other, taking and giving.

As they sank into oblivion, Angel knew without a doubt that he was lost. To her, to his feelings. It might be wrong, but there was no going back now, there was no way he could, and more importantly, would change it. And when he cried out her name, it was on a declaration of love.


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